It is Day 62 (on 5/11) since the start of the COVID-19 American shelter-in-place/quarantine response (7 states did not issue a shelter-in-place order), and the day that the WHO declared it a ‘pandemic’ (3/11/20). Of course, as some states start opening up, they are going to mess up my brand-new day counter.
I hope that you and your families are staying healthy and safe. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its literal mortal, economic, and mental toll on millions of people around the world.
I mentioned that the book I ghostwrote last year, was finally published last week. I have just finished the first article I was commissioned for, once again as a ghostwriter. I am outlining another book, which will be a true story written by me.
I am still not retired from the Securities Finance industry. I am working with an electronic trading platform, and making great headway on providing a large electronic solution for several markets. I am also available for hire as a consultant, with almost 38 years of experience in the Repo & Securities Lending industry. So, if you need my Securities Financing expertise or access to my vast network of about 9000 clients, call my mobile (646-753-1300), email (email@example.com), or hit me up on LinkedIn.
My Repo Commentary, however, is posted FREE (it’s actually always been free) on my website: www.repocommentary.com. It also pops up on LinkedIn, the Global Investors Group (ISF Magazine) website, and on CentralBanks.com as an op-ed. I am interested in entertaining you and taking your mind off the pressures you are under. I intend to publish a Repo Commentary every week on Monday or Tuesday.
Since its inception in 1982, the Repo Commentary does not represent the views of any of my former firms and reflects only my opinion and includes only publicly available information. I make a strong effort to attribute any quotes or thoughts that are not my own, I do not make any marketing spiels, and I really am more interested (70-80%) in entertaining you than boring (20-30%) you with too much market info. Feel free, as always, to send me information or pictures, to make it better! But, I digress, on with the non-fake news.
Holidays or Events (05/11):
- Hostess CupCake Day
- National Twilight Zone Day (I feel like we are in the Twilight Zone)
- National Women’s Check-Up Day
- World Ego Awareness Day
- National Technology Day in India
- Statehood Day in Minnesota
- Vietnam Human Rights Day
- Eat What You Want Day
Another Public Service Announcement, perhaps too late, Sunday was Mother’s Day. 5/8 was the 75thAnniversary of Victory-in-Europe Day (WWII).
Some Famous People Born on 05/11 in History:
- 1715-Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach, German organist
- 1852-Charles Fairbanks, American journalist and politician
- 1888-Irving Berlin, Belarusian-American pianist and composer
- 1904-Salvador Dali, Spanish artist (my favorite artist)
- 1911-Phil Silvers, American actor and comedian
- 1933-Louis Farrakhan, American religious leader
- 1983-Matt Leinart, American football player
- 1988-Brad Marchand, Canadian ice hockey player
- 1989-Cam Newton, American football player
Daily Weird Facts:
The opening scene of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, in which James Bond skies off a cliff and opens a Union Jack parachute, amazed even The Royals. “I have never seen a reaction in the cinema as there was that night. You couldn’t help it. You could not help but stand up. Even Prince Charles stood up.”
“Homeschooling is going well. 2 students suspended for fighting and 1 teacher fired for drinking on the job.” –anonymous
Currency and Commodity Markets:
Oil prices closed at:
$74.34/barrel on 10/5
$47.66/barrel on 12/23
$48.63 on 01/07
$52.31/barrel on 01/16
$55.26/barrel on 2/3
$55.41/barrel on 2/26
$73.77/barrel on 4/29
$63.28/barrel on 5/17
$54.07/barrel on 6/18
$55.96/barrel on 7/24
$58.31/barrel on 9/10
$53.50/barrel on 10/2
$59.10/barrel on 12/8
$58.81/barrel on 1/17
$54.39/barrel on 2/7
$35.92/barrel on 3/11
$27.15/barrel on 3/18
$29.90/barrel on 3/23
$27.43/barrel on 3/27
$24.90/barrel on 4/01
$31.80/barrel on 4/12
$28.31/barrel on 4/17
$20.03/barrel on 4/27
$26.78/barrel on 5/04
$30.39/barrel on 5/09
Oil prices are a mess. They have bounced off the lows from last week. It used to be that when oil prices rose, that was bad for the US. Now, that we are less dependent on foreigners and had a nascent shale and fracking exploration going of our own, oil prices needed to stay at a certain level to make it affordable for us to continue exploration. Needless to say, there goes our recently highly-touted “independence” in terms of oil. The price of gasoline at my West Palm Beach station has stopped falling and risen 5 cents in the past week, at $1.76/gallon. Most of the other stations in the area are 20-60 cents more per gallon.
One USD versus the Yen was trading at (these are all around Repo Commentary dates):
112.20 on 12/24
108.60 on 01/07
109.07 on 01/16
103.18 on 02/03
104.86 on 2/25
103.86 on 5/17
102.59 on 6/18
102.43 on 7/24
101.72 on 9/10
102.16 on 10/02
102.96 on 12/06
104.30 on 01/17/20
104.80 on 02/07/20
99.23 on 03/11/20
101.67 on 03/18/20
104.77 on 03/24/20
102.22 on 04/13/20
102.14 on 04/19/20
101.57 on 04/27/20
106.82 on 05/04/20
100.80 on 05/10/20
One Euro was trading on:
12/24 at $1.1426
01/07 at $1.1478
01/16 at $1.1396
02/03 at $1.2047
02/25 at $1.1955
05/17 at $1.1761
06/18 at $1.1825
07/24 at $1.1740
09/10 at $1.1623
10/02 at $1.1504
12/06 at $1.1688
01/17 at $1.1721
02/07 at $1.1543
03/11 at $1.1937
03/18 at $1.1575
03/24 at $1.1400
04/13 at $1.1523
04/19 at $1.1394
04/27 at $1.1407
05/04 at $1.0903
05/10 at $1.1402
One British Pound was trading on:
12/24 at $1.2655
01/07 at $1.2770
01/16 at $1.2880
02/03 at $1.3758
02/25 at $1.3728
05/17 at $1.3427
06/18 at $1.3157
07/24 at $1.3070
09/10 at $1.2959
10/02 at $1.2882
12/06 at $1.3819
01/17 at $1.3753
02/07 at $1.3574
03/11 at $1.354
03/18 at $1.2665
03/24 at $1.2231
04/13 at $1.3143
04/19 at $1.3058
04/27 at $1.3052
05/04 at $1.2435
05/10 at $1.3005
One USD versus the CAD at:
1.3442 on 12/24
1.3297 on 01/07
1.3255 on 01/16
1.2492 on 2/03
1.2492 on 2/25
1.2800 on 5/17
1.2740 on 6/18
1.2480 on 7/24
1.2520 on 9/10
1.2560 on 10/02
1.2530 on 12/06
1.2390 on 01/17
1.2640 on 02/07
1.3020 on 03/11
1.3540 on 03/18
1.3690 on 03/24
1.3250 on 04/13
1.3390 on 04/19
1.3350 on 04/27
1.4090 on 05/04
1.3250 on 05/10
The USD has advanced strongly against all major currencies over the past week. The Euro/USD exchange was very close to the Maastricht Treaty low of $1.08. The CAD/USD is near historic highs.
Gold closed on 9/09 at $1504.90/ounce. On 10/02, it closed at $1498.70/ounce. On 12/6, it closed at $1,464.40/ounce. On 1/17, it closed at $1557.30/ounce. On 2/07, it closed at $1,576.20/ounce. On 3/11, it closed at $1,641/ounce. On 3/18, it is trading at $1,487.60. On 3/24 it was trading at $1,659.80, way up. On 3/27 it is trading at $1,627.00. On 4/01, it is trading at $1,591.60. On 4/12, it skyrocketed to $1,738.00. Yet, on the eve of 4/20, it has backed off a little to $1,694.50. On 4/27, it traded at $1,724.20/ounce. On 5/04, it was trading $1,712.70. On 5/10, it was trading at $,1,708.90.
Bitcoin was trading at (around Repo Commentary Dates):
$8,185.21 on 7/25
$6,350 on 10/5
$3,774.97 on 12/24/18
$3,7774.97 on 01/07
$3,598.90 on 01/16
$3,421.10 on 02/06
$3,826.44 on 02/26
$8,100.00 on 05/16
$7,215.79 on 05/17
$9,088.59 on 06/18
$11,919.30 on 06/25
$9,790.37 on 07/24
$10,183.90 on 09/10
$8,235.46 on 10/02
$7,470.41 on 12/06
$8,876.87 on 01/17/20
$9,793.18 on 02/07/20
$7,871.60 on 03/11/20
$5,216.64 on 03/18/20
$6,728.03 on 03/24/20
$6,646.60 on 03/27/20
$6,443.44 on 03/31/20
$6,908.13 on 04/12/20
$7,128.45 on 04/19/20
$7,748.29 on 04/27/20
$8,775.36 on 05/04/20
$8,771.73 on 05/10/20
After rebounding in 2019 dramatically since the beginning of the year, although certainly not to its $19,000 high, Bitcoin hit a wall at the beginning of the Summer, then rallied during the Summer, and tumbled again in Q4, and had rallied in early in 2020. It then gave up all of those 2020 gains with the COVID-19 contagion. Now, it has rallied sharply in the last few weeks, leading to its impending ‘halving event’. In fact, this 15% rally in the past week is probably because of the allure of having twice as many bitcoins for owners, similar to a stock-split. The week’s gain was part of the first seven-week rally streak in Bitcoin in a year. In fact, Bitcoin is up over 130% since 3/13/20, when it hit $3,867. This will be the 3rd‘halving event’ for Bitcoin, since its inception, and will occur on 5/12/20. There were strong rallies prior to the other two ‘halvings’ as well. ‘Halving’ refers to a programmed-in event in Bitcoin’s code, which reduces the reward per block mined by 50% every 4 years to control inflation. Following the halving, rewards issued will drop to 6.25 BTC from the current 12.5 BTC. I’ve heard the promotional material that halving events create lesser supply (half the payment for miners, so less supply of coins) and increase the media attention on Bitcoin and could lead to a rally. But, the charts from the previous halvings have shown more of a sideways move, even a drop in prices for one, and months later, a rally. You know, being a huge stochastics fan my entire career, I have always felt, naively, that any market, at any time, is operating in a pattern either predictable by stochastics or as the result of changing fundamentals. Except Bitcoin. I have not been able to recognize the stochastic patterns easily or correlated the fundamentals with market reaction.
Global Financial News:
China’s exports saw a shocking 3.5% rise in April, despite the global economic impact of the pandemic. However, imports fell. The SEC has voted unanimously to instruct FINRA and US equity exchanges to develop a national system for disseminating consolidated market data and to propose a method for governing it. Having data provided by 3 exchanges/providers has led to “inefficiencies and conflicts between [those exchanges’] commercial interests and their regulatory obligations.” A survey of hedge fund managers conducted by SS&C Technologies has found that 53% rely on alternative data sources, with 25% of them having done so for more than 5 years, per Pensions & Investments. PayPal saw Q1 profits fall 87.4%, but expects a strong rebound in Q2. Meanwhile, Square had an unexpected Q1 loss and warned about Q2. After working through the COVID-19 lockdowns and rules, many investment banks are likely to reconsider their pre-pandemic routines of frequent business travel and in-person meetings, as well as locating people in one place, in favor of conference calls and remote work. I’ve been saying this for 12 years! The intention of globalization is to make it safer to do business from anywhere at anytime. The EU is considering whether to create a dedicated agency or to give the European Banking Authority more authority to fight against money laundering. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has told clients of a wealth advisory firm bankers he speaks with to expect a wave of bankruptcies to deal a blow to the economy. I already reported that and go into more detail in a new section of the Repo Commentary below! He also reportedly has predicted tax rates on corporations and individuals will increase. Bloomberg Tradebook has settled a $5 million penalty, from the SEC, from charges that it routed a large number of transactions through unaffiliated dealers without informing customers between November 2010 and September 2018. BOE expects UK economy to revive from 30% output drop. UK banks want regulators to be somewhat lenient if errors occur with compliance while banks follow the government’s request to accelerate business lending during the COVID-19 pandemic. UBS investment banking joint head says that COVID-19 outbreak means bank mergers across Europe “will come a lot earlier than anticipated.” A post-pandemic increase in mergers and acquisitions next year will drive the process as whole industries rethink their business models. Hong Kong Exchange’s Li will step down as CEO next year. Central banks’ moves to erode high-yield debt taboo for investors could accelerate investment-grade fund managers’ departure from investment processes defined by credit ratings, which would transform capital allocation. US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent report on US personal income and outlays, shows that personal income decreased by exactly 2% in March. The Personal Savings Rate, which is the percentage of income that people save, jumped to 13.1%, well above the generally recommended 10% and it is solid proof that people are not spending on discretionary goods and trying to save money for this continued emergency. Personal Consumption, of course, dropped 7.5% in March. In March, Consumer borrowing dropped $12 billion, the first decrease since August 2011. The Financial Times reported this morning that the aggregate Value At Risk (VaR) of the top 5 banks has risen to the highest point since 2011. Reuters reports that Members Exchange launch has been approved by the SEC. FINRA said that it may not have enough revenue to cover operating expenses this year and might have to draw on reserves. 2020 marks the 7thconsecutive year that FINRA did not increase member firm fees. China has eliminated a requirement that participants of the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor program and Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor program obtain an investment quota from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. The administration has also simplified the procedure investors must use to repatriate securities investment income.
US Market News:
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on global economies and equity markets. A forecast just published by the Congressional Budget Office shows the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue for months, the US unemployment rate will hit 16%, and the budget deficit will climb to $3.7 trillion. The sharp economic contraction is expected to continue through June, but a recovery will begin in Q3. The CBO expects, “state and local governments (at that time) will ease stay-at-home orders, bans on public gatherings, and other measures restraining economic activity.” Reuters reports that markets are increasingly hinging on COVID-19 vaccine expectations. Investors say that there is little chance of sustained economic progress without it. The markets are bobbing up and down with the daily headlines concerning vaccine tests. Data expected this week on the retail sector, industrial output, and inflation is likely to indicate a growing disparity between the frothy stock market and the economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to experience enormous volatility recently, as regulators continue to resist reinstating the Uptick Rule, which disappeared after the Great Recession. Here are the latest DJIA closes for the past month or so, just to demonstrate the massive volatility (I’m starting to think I missed the bottom to buy in):
4/10/20 market closed
2/12/20 29,551.42 record high
The Dow Jones closed at (Repo Commentary Dates):
26,656.77 on 9/20/18
26,447.05 on 10/5/18
21,792.20 on 12/23/18
21,712.53 on 12/26/18
24,207.16 on 01/16/19
25,063.89 on 2/06/19
26,106.47 on 2/25/19
25,862.68 on 5/16/19
26,465.54 on 6/18/19
27,269.97 on 7/24/19
26,793.09 on 9/10/19
26,229.31 on 10/02/19
28,015.06 on 12/06/19
29,348.10 on 01/17/20
29,185.07 on 02/07/20
29,551.42on 02/12/20 record high
23,553.22 on 03/11/20
21,237.38 on 03/17/20
18,591.93 on 03/23/20
22,552.17 on 03/26/20
21,917.16 on 03/31/20
23,719.37 on 04/09/20
24,242.49 on 04/17/20
24,133.78 on 04/27/20
24,331.32 on 05/08/20
A 30% rebound on the S&P 500 since 3/23/20 has underscored the ways in which different markets appraise the outlook for the economy, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a disparity with the Labor Department data showing that the real economy has lost 20.5 million jobs in just April. The S&P 500’s forward price-to-earnings ratio has reached 21, the highest point since 2001 (during the Dot.com bubble), despite disappointing corporate earnings.
S&P 500 has closed on:
10/5/18 at 2,885.58
12/26/18 at 2,467.70
01/07/19 at 2,549.69
01/16/19 at 2,616.10
02/06/19 at 2,706.53
02/25/19 at 2,799.34
05/16/19 at 2,876.32
06/18/19 at 2,917.75
07/24/19 at 3,019.56
09/10/19 at 2,969.04
10/02/19 at 2,906.94
12/06/19 at 3,145.91
01/17/20 at 3,329.62
02/07/20 at 3,335.27 down 10.51 from new all-time high
03/12/20 at 2,480.64
03/17/20 at 2,529.19
03/23/20 at 2,237.40
03/26/20 at 2,630.07
03/31/20 at 2,584.59
04/09/20 at 2,789.82
04/17/20 at 2,830.88
04/24/20 at 2,854.65
05/08/20 at 2,929.80
Nasdaq too gave up its 8/28/18 high of 8,030.04, closing on:
10/5/18 at 7,788.45
12/26/18 at 6,554.36
01/07/19 at 6,823.47
01/16/19 at 7,034.70
02/06/19 at 7,263.87
02/25/19 at 7,561.87
05/16/19 at 7,898.05
06/18/19 at 7,953.68
07/24/19 at 8,321.50
09/10/19 at 8,043.58
10/02/19 at 7,809.22
12/06/19 at 8,656.07
01/17/20 at 9,388.95
02/07/20 at 9,555.96 down 16.19 from new all-time high
03/12/20 at 7,201.80
03/17/20 at 7,334.78
03/23/20 at 6,860.67
03/26/20 at 7,797.54
03/31/20 at 7,700.10
04/09/20 at 8,153.58
04/17/20 at 8,650.14
04/27/20 at 8,730.16
05/08/20 at 9,121.32
The US Treasury says it will increase the size of debt auctions for long maturities and will have the first auction of a 20-year bond be worth $20 billion, a bigger offering than expected. The department expects to borrow a record $2.99 trillion during Q2, more than any quarterly amount during the Great Recession. Fed’s Thomas Barkin said that the large volume of borrowing undertaken by the US government is necessary to respond to economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Barkin adds that it must be reexamined at some point and says that the US will need to get the deficit under control.
2 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 2.88%
12/18/18 at 2.65%
01/07/19 at 2.53%
01/16/19 at 2.55%
02/06/19 at 2.52%
02/22/19 at 2.48%
05/16/19 at 2.20%
06/18/19 at 1.86%
07/24/19 at 1.83%
09/09/19 at 1.58%
10/01/19 at 1.56%
12/06/19 at 1.61%
01/17/20 at 1.58%
02/06/20 at 1.44%
03/11/20 at 0.50%
03/17/20 at 0.47%
03/23/20 at 0.28% wow!
03/26/20 at 0.30%
03/31/20 at 0.23%
04/09/20 at 0.23%
04/17/20 at 0.20%
04/27/20 at 0.24%
05/10/20 at 0.16% historic low
3 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 2.99%
12/18/18 at 2.64%
01/07/19 at 2.47% (inverted to 2years)
01/16/19 at 2.53%
02/06/19 at 2.50%
02/22/19 at 2.46%
05/16/19 at 2.15%
06/18/19 at 1.80%
07/24/19 at 1.79%
09/09/19 at 1.52%
10/01/19 at 1.51%
12/06/19 at 1.64%
01/17/20 at 1.58%
02/06/20 at 1.43%
03/11/20 at 0.58%
03/17/20 at 0.54%
03/23/20 at 0.31% wow!
03/26/20 at 0.36%
03/31/20 at 0.29%
04/09/20 at 0.29%
04/17/20 at 0.26%
04/27/20 at 0.29%
05/10/20 at 0.21%
5 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.07%
12/18/18 at 2.65%
01/07/19 at 2.49%
01/16/19 at 2.54%
02/06/19 at 2.51%
02/22/19 at 2.47%
05/16/19 at 2.18%
06/18/19 at 1.83%
07/24/19 at 1.82%
09/09/19 at 1.49%
10/01/19 at 1.51%
12/06/19 at 1.67%
01/17/20 at 1.63%
02/07/20 at 1.45%
03/11/20 at 0.66%
03/17/20 at 0.56%
03/23/20 at 0.38%
03/26/20 at 0.51%
03/31/20 at 0.37%
04/09/20 at 0.41%
04/17/20 at 0.36%
04/27/20 at 0.41%
05/10/20 at 0.33%
7 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.18%
12/18/18 at 2.74%
01/07/19 at 2.60%
01/16/19 at 2.62%
02/06/19 at 2.59%
02/22/19 at 2.55%
05/16/19 at 2.28%
06/18/19 at 1.93%
07/24/19 at 1.93%
09/09/19 at 1.57%
10/01/19 at 1.59%
12/06/19 at 1.78%
01/17/20 at 1.74%
02/06/20 at 1.56%
03/11/20 at 0.78%
03/17/20 at 0.91%
03/23/20 at 0.63%
03/26/20 at 0.72%
03/31/20 at 0.55%
04/09/20 at 0.60%
04/17/20 at 0.53%
04/27/20 at 0.56%
05/10/20 at 0.53%
10 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.23%
12/18/18 at 2.82%
01/07/19 at 2.70%
01/16/19 at 2.73%
02/06/19 at 2.70%
02/22/19 at 2.65%
05/16/19 at 2.40%
06/18/19 at 2.06%
07/24/19 at 2.05%
09/09/19 at 1.83%
10/01/19 at 1.65% dramatic drop in one month!
12/06/19 at 1.84% dramatic rise in two months!
01/17/20 at 1.84%
02/06/20 at 1.65% and back down again!
03/11/20 at 0.82%
03/17/20 at 1.02% and back up again
03/23/20 at 0.76% and back down again
03/26/20 at 0.83%
03/31/20 at 0.70%
04/09/20 at 0.73%
04/17/20 at 0.65%
04/27/20 at 0.67%
05/10/20 at 0.69%
30 YEAR BONDS closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.40%
12/18/18 at 3.07%
01/07/19 at 2.99%
01/16/19 at 3.07%
02/06/19 at 3.03%
02/22/19 at 3.02%
05/16/19 at 2.84%
06/18/19 at 2.55%
07/24/19 at 2.58%
09/10/19 at 2.11%
10/01/19 at 2.11%
12/06/19 at 2.29%
01/17/20 at 2.29%
02/06/20 at 2.11%
03/11/20 at 1.30%
03/17/20 at 1.63% way up!
03/23/20 at 1.33% back down
03/26/20 at 1.42%
03/31/20 at 1.35%
04/09/20 at 1.35%
04/17/20 at 1.27%
04/27/20 at 1.29%
05/10/20 at 1.39%
According to new numbers from the US Census Bureau and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, sales of newly built, single-family homes fell in March by 15.4%, a significant but expected drop. The pandemic stay-at-home orders drastically lowered sales activity for both existing and new homes. The median sales price of new homes sold in March dropped to $321,400. The biggest declines were in the Northeast and the West. ATTOM Data Services calculated that homeowners who sold their homes during Q1 of 2020 saw 33.7% return on investment, compared to the original purchase price. According to the MBA, weekly mortgage applications were up 12% from last week. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will let borrowers facing hardship defer 2 months of mortgage payments. They also have now expanded their temporary COVID-19-related policies to include the suspension of bulk sales and limiting remaining purchases to mortgages no older than 6 months. The measures also include suspending representation and warranty relief for employment verification and allowing remote notarization for originators in certain states, per National Mortgage News. Banks have been deluged by applications for refinancings, as a survey of 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates hit an all-time survey low of 2.66% (since 1990), according to Lendgo. Mortgage applications were up 7.3% from one week ago. 76.2% of total applications were for refinancings. However, home purchases were down in the first week of March over the first week of last March by 35%. According to the most recent monthly Mortgage Credit Availability Index, availability standards tightened in March. Lenders have become more conservative and less willing to take on more risks.
Forbes reported that credit rating agency, Fitch Ratings, said that commercial mortgage delinquencies may reach the Great Recession level. It predicted that CMBS loan delinquencies could spike between 8.25% and 8.75% by the end of Q3, coming close to the peak of 9.01% in July 2011. Just as a reality check, that delinquency rate stood at 1.31% in March 2020. The most vulnerable businesses are hospitality, retail and student housing. Another area that could suffer is shopping malls. But, now that there are less lenders of private mortgages, less servicers, and less investors, the private label market needs Federal help. I am constantly seeing reports (and trying not to bury you with them, but just pick a general one as a summary) about the current housing market environment and how it is crushing independent mortgage banks. The Federal Reserve has been buying up US Treasuries and GSE MBS (GNMA, FNMA, FHLMC), which is driving up the TBA prices. IMBs normally would profit from originating in this environment, but they do not currently have the access to cash, while the big banks do. They just don’t have the liquidity. And, the IMBs/originators are get margin-called by their broker-dealers. Aggregators and warehouse lines have tightened credit parameters on their programs. Meanwhile, TBA counterparties have also reduced credit lines with IMBs, making it harder to hedge the mortgage pipeline.
Looking at Commercial Real Estate again, after speaking with my attorney and real estate friends on the ground, particularly in NYC, increasing commercial real estate vacancies from companies that realize that their people can work from home, is creating new challenges for urban real estate. In a 5/6 Bloomberg article, it was shown that new leases in NYC have sunk to the lowest Q1 level since 2009. The collapse began with the shutdown of businesses in March, but has been exacerbated by a market facing a surge of new offices. Now, many companies are delaying expansion plans and cancelling leases, as they re-think how much NYC space they actually need in a post-COVID-19 world. While that may be good for society’s progress and innovation and efficiency, it is not good for commercial real estate owners and landlords. Two of the largest NYC landlords have already seen more than $5 billion in market value evaporate. So, the question is, does conventional office setting need to still exist?
This morning, more bad news for the Mortgage bond market, as WeWork made an aggressive move to withhold/renege on rent or renegotiate terms on other rent payments, hammering CMBS, driving down prices of securities backed by the company’s payments, according to the Financial Times.
Repo/Securities Financing News:
To make this more legible and easier to follow, I will provide the newest headlines in the Repo & Securities Lending market at the top in RED. The subsequent paragraphs of this section will include other issues and my thoughts on the market, for those who haven’t read them before. They will be updated, but won’t change as much as the first paragraph. At some point, I will assume people have read parts of those further paragraphs and will trim them from the Repo Commentary.
Securities Lending Times reported that FIS appointed a new senior sales executive, Alexandra Bocking, who will focus on post-trade solutions to the DACH region of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
GC repo rates continue to confound, trading with Fed Funds at the low end of the target range. Some of that is due to the massive RP operations and the massive QE buying. Right now, broker-dealers are giving $156.5 billion of their collateral to the Fed at the stop-out rate of 0.10%. The repo market is awash with cash. GC repo rates should move higher, maybe to the middle of the Fed Funds range, as the impact of this month’s issuance of $647 billion in cash management bills should sop up some of that extra cash. That’s only part of the $1 trillion that US Treasury is going to issue.
Scott Skyrm reports that after a tumultuous (my word, not his) March, the Agency MBS Repo market is almost back to normal, at least part of it. In March, repo rate spreads moved much wider between Agency MBS and US Treasuries, as did prices on the securities, generating margin calls for leveraged participants (asset managers, hedge funds, mREITs, etc.) Some of those leveraged participants were unable to meet their margin calls and their securities were liquidated, prompting some of the broker-dealers to reduce their Agency MBS repo books (balance sheets). Recently, those Agency MBS repo and US Treasury repo rates spreads have returned to near-normal 2-5bp. However, that is only dealer-to-dealer. Broker-dealers are still maintaining a wider collateral spread to customers and a wider bid-offer spread to cash providers versus collateral providers. Coupled with some of those still lowered Agency MBS repo balance sheets at some broker-dealers, leveraged collateral providers are actively looking for additional agency MBS funding counterparties. It seems like a really good opportunity for a consultant like me, with many contacts, who is an expert in peer-to-peer financing counterparties. Ironically, I have seen a lot more interest today for my proposed electronic solution or such!
The Federal Reserve has activated a temporary repurchase agreement facility that lets foreign central banks exchange US Treasuries for US dollars. This was an activity that many central banks and sovereign wealth funds were doing in the Repo market with broker/dealers, repoing their US Treasuries for term 1-3 months for US dollars, then taking those US dollars and buying their own currencies, propping those currencies up, until their own economies improved (or oil prices rose in some cases). But, with oil prices at historic lows, their economies struggling with the pandemic, and the apparent lack of liquidity in the term repo markets, the Fed felt it needed to step in with this Facility. Both the Facility and the term repos to broker/dealers are designed to be alternatives to them selling the US Treasuries outright in the market, something the Treasury Department and the Fed absolutely don’t want them to do.
The Fed Funds target of 0%-0.25% means that we are likely to see some negative repo rates for Treasuries that go Special. That also means we will have to watch those TPMG fails rates. On Monday, Overnight GC traded at 0.04%, at the low end of the Fed Funds target range, but that was with an injection of $449 billion from the Fed. That injection, so far, has only helped the Overnight market, and the yield curve rises dramatically for term repo, as does the bid/offer spread, similar to post 2008. Of course, this is a different market than 2008, as we only have 24 Primary Dealers, and, as Skyrm points out, $23.5 trillion in US Treasury issuance, compared to $10 trillion in 2008.
Bill Foley has begun a new Securities Finance TV, SecFinHub, featuring interviews and discussions with experts. I am looking forward to participating remotely.
I am hearing that the Federal Reserve may be working on resurrecting the Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility (TALF), which was a subset of the successful TARP program, both from the 2008 Financial Crisis response in 2009/2010. I don’t have a list yet of the securities that the Fed will take in the proposed program, and am curious to see if they will take real estate loans.
In the Securities Financing industry, we are again facing a tsunami of acronyms in regulations and events, much like during the Financial Crisis. ESMA is delaying rules on failed trades by 2 more months. LEI rules are being postponed for emerging market securities, as nearly 50% of them still don’t have LEIs. Even 10% of European securities don’t have LEIs.
ESMA’s SFTR Level 3
EU Crypto Regs
FCA Crypto Regs
EC Cyber-attack Guidelines
FCA Financial Services Duty of Care Bill/MiFID II
LIBOR replacement (SOFR, SOIA, EuSTAR)
ISLA/ICSF/ESG and short selling
Well, “repo” is the lubricant of the money market system, particularly the issuance of US Treasuries and other bonds, and it only comes up in conversation among non-participants when the gears start squeaking or fail to function. And, the last time the general public heard about “repo” it was during the Financial Crisis.
This is broadly what has happened since the Financial Crisis.
- The regulators, particularly the Federal Reserve, instituted emergency liquidity programs for different sectors of the money market (CP, Corporate Bonds, Broker/Dealers, GSEs, etc.). They eventually unwound those many programs.
- They opened up for a brief time the Discount Window to more participants and without the previous stigma attached, for collateral providers to access cash.
- They put FNMA and FHLMC into conservatorship.
- They began easing Monetary Policy massively for years.
- They began Quantitative Easing and built up the Fed’s balance sheet to $4.5 trillion. They added to it by buying more securities every month from the paydowns on their MBS portfolio.
- They propped up some broker/dealers, allowed some to fail, and helped others to consolidate/merge.
- The Repo Market shrunk in the US from about $7 trillion to $3 trillion, before recent increase to about $3.6 trillion.
- Regulators instituted mountains of new reforms, especially the 310 new rules of Dodd-Frank, globally to decrease the likelihood of systemic risk in the financial system and to force, particularly the broker/dealers and GSIB banks to hold more capital/reserves for liquidity.
- The market began looking for alternatives to financing through broker/dealers via CCPs, peer-to-peer financing, Sponsored Repo, and electronic trading platforms.
- The Fed began its much hailed RRP program, kind of like a P2P repo, which added over 300 cash providers from the Repo market to finance the Fed’s balance sheet and provide ‘liquidity’ for those cash providers. Of course, that didn’t help the Primary Dealers, who were using those cash providers to finance their balance sheets.
- The Fed stopped QE and began reducing their balance sheet down to $2.5 trillion.
- The US Treasury began ramping up issuance to the tune of about $1 trillion more, which is funneled through the 24 primary broker/dealers and the central banks.
- The Fed began tightening monetary policy and tinkering with new measures of repo rates and LIBOR replacement. They also began tinkering with the Interest on Excess Reserves (IOER) from banks and credit unions, to try to create higher reserves.
- The Fed did an about-face and began easing monetary policy. They had also lowered IOER. They now have raised IOER in the last two FOMC meetings.
- The Fed effectively reinstated QE, injected at least $500 billion to buy US Treasuries again, $200 billion to buy Agency MBS again, and injected funds into the Dollar Roll market.
- They then began reinstating specific bailout/backstop programs of 2008.
Having just moderated a panel at the IMN Securities Financing Conference 2/12-2/13/20, my panel and I were able to share with the audience the current state of ETPs, CCPs, and P2P securities financing, and painted, in no particular order, a current map below (this is based on what we have been able to ascertain, but may not be accurate or complete):
- Eurex/Deutsche Borse/Clearstream (CCP)-has been doing predominantly European governments repo for some time now.
- LCH-Clearnet-London (CCP)-I do not have any info yet.
- LCH-Clearnet-Paris (CCP)-split out years ago, not because of Brexit.
- Shanghai Clearing House-China (CCP). I do not have any info yet.
- OCC (CCP)-has hit daily volumes of $80 billion of repo and outright trading, with futures and options as well. It also still owns AQS/Quadriserve (ETP) for US securities lending.
- FICC/DTCC (CCP)-has hit high volume of $552 billion, increases coming from the 3 participant banks in Sponsored Repo, bringing their clients into the CCP, along with their standard dealer vs dealer repo.Has been around a while now.
- CDCC-Canada (CCP)-brand new CCP involving derivatives and repo.
- com (ETP)-fairly new, trades total return swaps.
- HQLAx (ETP)-securities financing, just started, uses blockchain tokens to represent trades.
- Liquidity Marketplace-LMX (ETP), I do not have any info yet.
- Asterisk (ETP)-brand new, focused first on government securities and equities financing.
- Treasury Spring (ETP)-fairly new, focused on European asset managers.
- GLMX (ETP)-a Silicon Valley solution, primarily dealers and some asset managers.
- TradeWeb (ETP)-longtime system, primarily dealers and some asset managers.
- BNY DBVX (ETP)-fairly new and has changed, for internal BNY Mellon clients now.
- DealerWeb (ETP)-primarily for dealers.
- AFX/CBOE (ETP)-trades collateralized loans and futures.
- State Street Direct Access (ETP)-fairly new, has started securities financing for internal State Street clients.
One of many developments that I thought was really cool to hear about at the IMN conference (among other things I will share with you over time in the Repo Commentary or in consultation), was the newly formed Global Peer Financing Association created by 4 of my larger pension fund clients (CALPERS, HOOPP, OHPERS, SWIB) to promote peer-to-peer financing, not only among pension funds, but potentially with other sectors too (such as SWFs, Central Banks, Insurance Companies). It is of course near-and-dear to my heart, as I had many discussions with all 4 about peer-to-peer securities financing, over the past decade. I am very happy to see this development, which includes rate negotiation, standardization of legal documents, a credit vendor’s service, and some indemnification for certain clients from a securities lending agent. I am very supportive of this effort and hope to be involved in its evolution.
Securities Finance Industry Conferences: (subject to COVID-19-related postponements or cancellations)
- Deutsche Borse/Clearstream/Securities Lending Times held their annual GFF Summit in Luxembourg, 1/28-1/30/20, which I attended two years ago.
- IMN 26thBeneficial Owners International Securities Finance conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 2/12-2/13/20. I was the Chairperson in 2019 and will be a moderator this year. I hope to see many of you there!
- iMoneyNet/Informa has yet to announce its annual MMExpo, after the merger. I have spoken at this one several times.
- PASLA/RMA will hold its 17thannual Conference on Asian Securities Lending in Tokyo, Japan on 3/3-3/5/20.
- GIOA will hold its 16thannual conference in Las Vegas 3/18-3/20/20. I have spoken (and sung) at this one. I may attend.
- Crane Data will hold its annual Bond Fund Symposium in Boston, MA on 3/23-3/24/20.
- IHS Markit will hold its annual Securities Finance Forum in London, England on 3/24/20.
- Finadium will hold its 4th annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference in NYC on 5/13-5/14/20. I’ve spoken and sponsored this one.
- GFOA will hold its gigantic 114th(wow!) annual conference in Los Angeles on 5/17-5/20/20. I have attended this one in the past.
- IMN/AFME will hold its annual Global Bank ABS (West) conference in Barcelona, Spain on 6/16-6/18/20.
- Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders USA Summit in Nashville, TN on 6/8-6/10/20.
- ISLA will hold its 29thAnnual Securities Finance and Collateral Management conference in Vienna, Austria on 6/23-6/25/20. I have spoken (and sung) at this one before.
- ICMA/Securities Lending Times will hold their annual AGM and conference also in Vienna, Austria, on 6/24-6/26/20.
- Crane Data will hold its annual Money Fund Symposium on 6/24-6/26/20 in Minneapolis, MN. I heard there were 580 attendees in Boston last year. I have spoken at this conference before.
- National Association of State Treasurers will hold its annual conference in San Diego, CA on 9/13-9/16/20. I’ve spoken and sung at this one.
- IMN will hold its annual European Securities Finance conference in London, England on 9/15-9/16/20. I’ve attended this before.
- Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income & FX Leader Summit in Singapore on 9/22-9/24/20.
- IMN will hold its annual ABS East conference in Miami Beach, FL on 10/5-10/7/20. I’ve attended this before and might again.
- Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders 2020 conference in Barcelona, Spain on 10/12-10/14/20.
- RMA will hold its 38thannual Conference on Securities Finance and Collateral Management in Amelia Island, FL on October 12-15. I saw many of you last year in Boca Raton. It was my 37thRMA I’ve attended.
- Crane Data has yet to announce its annual European Money Fund Symposium.
- Finadium has yet to announce its 4th annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference Europe.
- American Financial Professionals (AFP) will hold its large annual conference in Las Vegas, NV on 10/18-10/21/20.
- Finadium has yet to announce its Rates & Repo conference in New York. I’ve spoken and sponsored this one.
- net has yet to announce its 26thannual Risk USA conference. I’ve chaired this one.
- SIFMA has yet to announce its annual Meeting.
Federal Reserve News:
Similar to what I am doing for the Repo News section of the Repo Commentary, I will report news headlines in RED in the last paragraph of this Federal Reserve section. That paragraph will be preceded with other issues, timelines, and general information that will be updated, but will remain pretty constant, until I decide to trim them from the Repo Commentary.
I’m a little surprised that at the end of last week, the Federal Reserve did an about-face regarding the replacement of LIBOR as an index for trillions of dollars of Swap Agreements, Repo Agreements, and other loan documents. As you recall, LIBOR was a rate that was supposed to be calculated by 16 international banks, averaging where they traded interbank loans in different currencies for different terms each day. It turned out that it was being manipulated by some of those banks, and many of those currencies or terms of interbank trades did not even trade on those days. So, it became very subjective. There were also alleged collusions and specific people and banks involved in the scandal, a few years ago. So, the Fed commissioned a taskforce, headed by former partner and good friend, Tom Wipf, to come up with an alternative rate that could be set from empirical data. There were several candidates, but they were leaning towards a repo provable rate. That rate was SOFR. Before my friend was named to the taskforce, I had been campaigning AGAINST SOFR, because I thought it needed more work to be inclusive of the buyside of the market, and that it was still too broker/dealer influenced. Here’s what I’ve been including in the Repo Commentary for years (and I had actually written a longer version for years):
“The Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) is supposed to be a broad measure of the cost of borrowing cash overnight collateralized by US Treasury securities. It is also reported by the NY Fed on its website. It has been controversial and has been considered as the likely replacement for LIBOR. SOFR includes trades in the Broad General Collateral Rate of Repo plus bilateral Treasury Repo transactions cleared through the DVP services at CCP FICC, ostensibly filtering out issues trading Special. However, critics (and I am one) say that it only picks up the Offered Side of Repo (not a median), that it only picks up the small amount of DVP transactions cleared at FICC and Triparty Repo done at Bank of NY, ignoring the growing amount of bilateral (non-Triparty) repo being done peer-to-peer, dealer-to-dealer, and client-to-dealer, outside of FICC. It is a good representation of where Money Funds (except for a few savvy ones who trade peer-to-peer) are paid on their cash versus US Treasuries in Repo each day by broker/dealers. It almost completely ignores other sectors, particularly buy-side clients with collateral.” See, picture the broker/dealer, if you will, as the traditional middleman/person in a securities financing transaction (repo or securities lending) between a company who has collateral (either bought on leverage or fully-paid for) and a company who has cash (either money fund investors’ cash, regulatory capital, or investment cash), who then applies a bid-offer spread to the 2 rates that they show to the collateral provider and cash provider, a spread that is wider percentage-wise, as interest rates go lower. Think of this bid-offer spread that the broker/dealer gets as their profit (although that’s very simplified). If you really want to know the INTEREST RATE, each day, where trillions of dollars trade (at least $3 trillion), then it would be the median or average middle of those two rates on each side of the bid-offer. But, if you only collect the below median rates of FICC, which are the broker/dealers trading with each other, and the Triparty offer-side rate to the Cash Providers (the offer side of bid-offer of the broker/dealers) captured by their main custody bank, Bank of NY Mellon, and don’t collect any data from the bid-side of the bid-offer spread, the collateral providers, how are you achieving a median price each day for securities financing transactions? Your bias in data collection will skew the rate you calculate to somewhere between the offer-side of broker/dealer repo and the median repo rate, by default. That’s overlooking the fact that the bid-side of the securities financing market also represents trillions of dollars in transactions that you are ignoring, but could use, to substantiate your index rate. That is the OBVIOUS problem, and I apologize to my former partner. He has been tasked with something that he has tried to ferret out and has tackled numerous obstacles. He has had the foresight, in the article I just read, to say they haven’t had enough time to be certain that this is when they should roll out the replacement rate. The other issue, I think is this recent volatility of repo rates that has perplexed the Federal Reserve. Optimally, they would like the replacement index to also replace the intention of LIBOR to capture yield curve risk (term) and credit risk in an average way. Throwing in various supply/demand characteristics, regulatory changes, balance sheet manipulations, and outright markets’ supply and demand, among other things, into the equation, moves you further away from the simple index you intended to have. Unfortunately, those influences, including the Federal Reserve and US Treasury’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic economic impact, have distorted the replacement index.
Well, at the 11thhour, the Federal Reserve realized that the markets were not ready yet to implement SOFR in place of LIBOR, and that the pandemic had taken bank resources away to other important issues, rather than SOFR implementation, so put a hold on SOFR. The new $600 billion Main Street Lending Program, which will buy debt from potentially hundreds of companies, requires a benchmark rate. Also, UK officials granted banks a 6-month extension to keep issuing loans based on LIBOR, which ultimately is supposed to be phased out/replaced by the end of 2021. So, the stimulus for the COVID-19 pandemic from several central banks has interfered with those central banks’ plans to replace LIBOR. So, as Tom Wipf said, this was a “practical consideration” by the Fed.
The Fed announced on 3/23 that the amount of liquidity available for it to buy US Treasuries and Agency MBS in the outright markets is now UNLIMITED.
The Fed Funds rate, which is still the target rate of Federal Reserve monetary policy and changes to which are made by and announced by the FOMC at regularly scheduled meetings, is currently set at 0.00-0.25% (remember, the Fed has been using a target ‘range’ for a while). The Federal Reserve posts an Effective Fed Funds Rate (EFFR).
The Overnight Bank Funding Rate (OBFR), is also published by the NY Fed to capture the volume-weighted median of overnight federal funds transactions, Eurodollar transactions, and the domestic deposits reported by banks.
The next FOMC meetings (and they are all two-day meetings so these are the second day, when they actually announce) are: 4/29/20, 6/10/20, 7/29/20, 9/16/20, 11/5/20, and 12/16/20. However, as we saw on 3/3/20, the FOMC can call emergency meetings at any time, even on weekends, especially during the Crisis we are facing now.
The Federal Reserve’s Reverse Repo Facility (RRP), which has over 300 approved participants (mostly banks, GSEs, and MMFs) is used as a tool by the Federal Reserve, along with its Fed Funds target-setting monetary policy, and IOER for depository institutions, to help control short-term interest rates. The Fed is currently only repoing out US Treasuries from its portfolio and typically only Overnight.This facility, dormant by the middle of 2019, has seen a lot of action in the last few weeks, as cash providers have trouble finding enough repo collateral among their broker/dealer sources.
On 3/4/20, the FRB approved a rule to simplify its capital rules for large banks, still preserving the strong capital requirements already in place. On 3/5/20, the FRB announced the termination of enforcement actions. It also postponed its 2020 National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference because of COVID-19. On 3/6/20, the FRB published the Community Reinvestment Act. On 3/9/20, the Fed and other Governmental agencies encouraged financial institutions to meet financial needs of customers and members affected by COVID-19. The FOMC chose to have an unscheduled meeting and press conference on 3/3/20 (sort of like the old days), because of the COVID-19 crisis. The FOMC set the Interest on Excess Reserves Rate (IOER) target to 1.10%, effective on 3/4/20. They also voted to authorize and direct the Open Market Desk at the FRB NY, until instructed otherwise, to execute transactions in the System Open Market Account (SOMA) as necessary to maintain the Fed Funds rate in a target of 1.00%-1.25%, down 50bp. The FOMC also instructed the Fed to continue purchasing Treasury bills at least into Q2 of 2020, to maintain over time ample reserve balances at or above the level that prevailed in early September 2019 (before the liquidity problems of year-end). The FOMC also directed the FRB to continue conducting term and O/N repo operations at least through April 2020 to ensure ample supply of reserves. The FOMC also directed the desk to conduct overnight Reverse Repo operations at an offering rate of 1.00% in amounts limited only by the value of Treasury securities in its SOMA account that are available for such operations and up to a per-counterparty limit of $30 billion per day. If that wasn’t enough, the FOMC also directed the desk to continue to reinvest P&I from MBS securities it owns in Treasury securities, up to $20 billion per month, and to engage in Dollar Rolls and Coupon Swap transactions as necessary to facilitate the market.
The US Treasury Department is making $10 billion available to support businesses’ liquidity through outright purchases of CP issued by highly rated companies. The CP Funding Facility will be managed by the Federal Reserve Bank of NY.
The Fed is encouraging banks to use capital buffers imposed by regulations to loan to borrowers hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Fed needs to clarify what is permitted.
The Federal Reserve has begun buying ETFs and Corporate Bonds, as well as Municipal debt. Fed Chairman Powell explained the Fed’s new round of $2.2 trillion in lending programs, which will include Corporate Debt backstops for states, cities, and small businesses. This will include riskier bonds issued by corporations that had recently lost their investment-grade status. This brings me back to my earlier point about CMBS and mortgage loans needing a Fed backup program like TALF. Even I am losing count of how many trillions of dollars the Fed has hosed this economic fire with. However, the Fed wants the market to know, according to Bloomberg, that it still has plenty of ammunition available beyond the latest $2.3 trillion effort. For instance, the Fed has so far only used about 40% of the $454 billion in seed capital allocated by Congress for such efforts, which leaves it at least $250 billion, which used through the Repo market could be levered as much as 10-times that, to provide up to another $2.5 trillion of further relief. Now here’s a topic that I have harped on a few times before. A big difference from 2008 to 2020 in resurrecting the bailout programs and implementing the Fed tools from 2008, is that there are only 24 Primary Dealers now, down from 48 Primary Dealers. The pipeline has been constricted for all of those Fed programs to go through, particularly the liquidity programs of adding cash through monetary policy. Apparently, the WSJ this morning brought this up too, in one of their articles. They said that while hundreds of regulatory changes made after the 2008 Financial Crisis have made banks safer, it also constrained (those that did not go out of business or consolidate) their ability to serve as a “conduit” for the Fed’s rescue programs. “It seeps through the system more slowly.” As I have mentioned, it’s a combination of the reduction in number and size of those banks and their balance sheets, and their behavior and response. The Federal Reserve is eliminating a requirement that banks limit customers with savings accounts and money market accounts to 6 withdrawals a month without a fee. So, we have the FOMC 2-day meeting this week and I’m sure they will take the temperature on all of their emergency programs to stem the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, take inventory of their toolbox to see what tools they have left, and probably look at the IOER rate and Fed Funds target rate. They may decide to increase IOER from .10% to .15%, as Fed Funds have been trading on the low end of the 0.00%-0.25% target range. The Federal Reserve is expected to reduce its $8 billion daily buying spree of US Treasuries and Agency MBS securities in the secondary market, down to $7 billion/day, this week. The market is now pricing for Fed Funds to go negative in February 2021! I know, it’s incredible! Somehow, futures players and term repo players have priced in that the Federal Reserve is going to have to Ease again and bring the Fed Funds target down to maybe -0.25-0.00 from 0.00-0.25. that would be a negative rate on giving someone your cash. I was going to say that it’s ‘not that foreign a concept’, but that would be wrong. It is not ‘typical’ of US monetary policy, in fact, never happened. But, it is ‘foreign’ in the sense that Europe and Japan have taken their monetary policy to negative interest rates. As my dear friend, Scott Skyrm, likes to say, it could be “the fear of Return OF Capital overweighing the fear of Return ON Capital.” Would you be willing to pay interest to be assured that your cash would come back to you, instead of being lost, rather than earning something on it, but maybe not getting it back? But, as we all know, especially those in the Money Fund industry, negative
rates have much wider implications. Reuters announced this morning that the Federal Reserve plans to add “Sensitivity Analyses” concerning pandemic disruptions to bolster 2020 bank stress tests. The Federal Reserve Bank of NY has appointed BlackRock as a fiduciary for as much as $750 billion in corporate debt as the central banks implements stimulus plans. PIMCO has been chosen to manage purchases of short-dated Commercial Paper, according to WSJ.
Earthquakes and Volcanoes:
Last Saturday, a 5.5-magnitde earthquake was recorded off the waters of southern Puerto Rico and caused damage to buildings in Ponce.
Earthquakes above 5.5-magnitude, in the last few days:
05/10 5.6 Near East Coast of Honshu, Japan
05/08 5.6 Mid-Indian Ridge
05/08 5.5 South Sandwich Islands Region
05/07 6.1 Solomon Islands
05/06 6.8 Banda Sea (Indonesia)
It continues to be unseasonably hot in Southern California, even as far north as San Francisco (up to 90 degrees), but that should diminish into the weekend. San Fran may drop to the 50s and rain, in fact. The Midwest has been enjoying unseasonably warm weather of 70s, but that’s also going to come to a halt. The Polar Vortex is back, and will hit the Midwest and Great Lakes by Friday, and is then expected to unleash winterlike cold across the eastern half of nation, with snow likely in the Northeast, on the weekend. It may even be historic. I can already here my friends in Maine complaining. I don’t think they ever got any Spring weather yet. The cold temps could settle in parts of the south and challenge record lows of May, in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. Even Chicago, if it does not exceed 45 degrees, will set a record for coolest May high temp since 2005. Sure enough, New Hampshire and Maine got 6-8” by Saturday, and freezing temperatures devoured the Northeast. Rain pummeled the mid-Atlantic. In NYC, snow fell on Central Park, tying the record of 1977. Here, in Florida, it cooled off to the 80s from the recent unseasonably hot 90s and wind, but at least we have about 8 straight days of sunshine. That will end on Sunday, with some much-needed rain. The irony is not lost on the locals, as the State finally opens up restaurants, at least the outdoor sections, just as it starts to rain again.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins June 1stand ends November 30th. I want you to know that I am constantly searching for good or uplifting news, but at the moment, the majority of news items are on the negative side and almost all dealing with COVID-19. Here is something different, but once again, while informational, kind of to the negative. According to Accuweather, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to have a more -active-than-normal season, worse than normal. They expect about 12 storms, 6 hurricanes, and 4 of them major hurricanes. The 2019 season had 18 named storms, matching 1969 for the 4thmost-lively season in the past 150 years. For the 2019 storm season, CSU, which has historically been the most used, had forecast a near-average season of 13 named storms, 5 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. It turned out to be the 4thyear in a row of above-average damaging seasons. We had 18 named storms, 7 hurricanes, of which 3 were major hurricanes. It became the 7thyear that there were multiple Category-5 hurricanes in one season. Did you know that commercial airplanes equipped with special air-sampling equipment provide an estimated 250 million observations annually, and now that many are grounded (some 64%), the National Centers for Environmental Protection and NOAA are not getting enough data, during one of the most active times of the year? And, despite plenty of bad news about COVID-19, on Friday, the official hurricane forecast for the Atlantic Hurricane Season came from CSU, giving us Floridians something else to worry about: CSU is predicting an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic for 2020, with the likely absence of El Nino. Tropical and subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently higher than normal, which tends to promote active hurricane seasons. Also, for the Pacific Hurricane Season, they have warm ENSO conditions, with waters slightly warmer than normal in the eastern and central tropical Pacific, but will likely cool and dissipate El Nino. Consequently, CSU predicts 16 named storms in the Atlantic, with 8 to become Hurricanes, and 4 to reach Category 3 or above strength.
The Pacific Hurricane Season started 5/1/20 and ends 11/1/20. There is yet to be a forecast for this Hurricane Season.
Given that many sports have suspended or cancelled their events and seasons, this section of the Repo Commentary will still have less changes. There are some discussions about realignment and starting seasons, with or without fans. I will update any changes in bold RED, so you can find them quickly. For those not seeing different colors, they will appear at the end of each sub-section and be highlighted. It is likely all team sports will look vastly different in this new reality. Also, it may be a long time or forever, until sports fans can view them in sports bars. I’m hoping this becomes the only section that I will have old news and new news, as I have trimmed the other sections down.
The 2019 MLB regular season began on 3/28 last year and ended on 9/30 (more than 6 months). The World Series went 7 games, and the Washington Nationals, who were in the Postseason for the first time, beat the Houston Astros, who had won the World Series in 2017. The cool thing, from my perspective, is that they share the same brand new Spring Training facility right here in West Palm Beach, FL, and I sing the National Anthem for both teams several times during Spring Training, and I auditioned for both 2020 Spring Training for the Cardinals, Marlins, Astros, and Nationals. So, I’ve already had the honor to sing 3 National Anthems and “God Bless America’s this year, and I had at least 3 more to sing at. That would have broght my total of MLB games that I sang at, since 2003, to 156. We were about halfway through Spring Training. For the third year in a row, all 30 MLB teams were to be in action at the start of the season on the same day, March 26th. But, the COVID-19 put an end to Spring Training and delayed the start of the 2020 MLB regular season. It has also suspended all levels of MLB Minor League games. The 3 remaining Spring Training games that I was to sing the National Anthem at were also cancelled. All 30 MLB teams, today, each pledged $1 million to pay ballpark employees who aren’t able to work, until the season can open.
Rays minor leaguer Blake Bivens says he found out on Facebook that his wife, son, and mother-in-law were murdered. A’s All-star pitcher, Matt Keough, has died at age 64. Former A’s minor leaguer, Miguel Marte, has died of COVID-19 at age 30. A new report says that Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez are no longer pursuing a purchase of the NY Mets. MLB is still deciding how and when it will re-open and whether there will be fans in the seats when it re-opens. Interestingly, not only is how they will reopen, but also the realignment of teams, the antiquated stadiums of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A’s, and the possibility of new expansion teams (like Las Vegas) are topics on the table. The major issue is how to treat the team sport in a post-pandemic era, how to protect the players from contagion, how to protect the fans from contagion and/or screen the fans, and how to clean stadiums and implement social distancing. Will there even be fans allowed? How do the players, themselves, distance from each other? Also, there is the obvious question of how do they fit the 2020 regular season and playoffs into the rest of 2020 and where, given weather constraints? My feeling is that the sport must adapt to being fanless, even if players are going to require canned audience noise, in order to play effectively. This will put a lot more emphasis on televising games and opening that up to the wider audience, which will lead to greater advertising revenues, but probably a huge reduction in players’ compensation. Not, that it isn’t high time for that. Remember what I said about the new Hero Paradigm. Pay ‘essential’ people in society comparatively more than we used to pay ‘non-essential’ people. On 4/29, USA Today reported that MLB was discussing a plan to start the regular season in late June, no later than 7/2, playing at home stadiums, but with realigned league. Three executives said that they plan to play at least 100 regular season games. But, there would be no fans in their stadiums, and it would likely be a 3-division, 10-team plan, in which teams play only within their division. This would abolish the traditional American and National Leagues, and realign teams based on geography, which was the original intent. The players seem to like the idea, as they could still play in their home ballparks and not have to travel as much. The players were opposed to playing the entire season in Arizona/Florida/Texas. This is what USA Today was thinking was likely:
NY Yankees, NY Mets, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and Miami Marlins
Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners
Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers
MLB is considering how the 30 teams could refund COVID-19 postponements. As for not having fans in the seats, MLB and union officials have yet to have formal discussions about the ramifications of not having fans, ticket sales, and concession revenue. Last season, MLB attendance was 68.5 million and the average ticket price was $53. 3 owners told USA Today that they would refuse to play unless players were willing to take a pay cut. 4 other teams insist they would require financial relief from the players. So, there is optimism among executives that they may figure out a sliding scale depending on the loss of revenue, and they would revise their revenue-sharing plan. My guess is that MLB, like the other major team sports, will probably cut new deals with TV networks, since that will be the ONLY way fans can see the games, so games will be worth more to TV networks and somehow they have to expand coverage. I would think MLB Network, which already televises most of the games, but charges a princely sum to fans for the service, will have to rethink its pricing. Since their volume could jump substantially, maybe they will bring their season price of $199 down? Remember, attendance is not even close to the only way teams make money. MLB revenue was $10.7 billion in 2019, thanks mostly to its massive TV deal. One MLB team is already planning to cut 2021 payroll after the pandemic is over, according to CBS Sports.
MLB teams are likely to still return to their own Spring-Training facilities in Arizona and Florida when they resume workouts. They will have about 18-21 days before the start of the season in workouts.
There you go, and you read it in the Repo Commentary a month ago, when I said that the hero pyramid has been flipped and now maybe the true heroes will be paid closer to what they should and the non-essential ‘heroes’ would get paid what they deserve too.
Tyrell Hatton, from England, won the PGA’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. The PGA Tour started the Players Championship is went forward with the “fifth Major’s” first round, on schedule, at Ponte Vedra (TPC Sawgrass and the island green). But, then it cancelled the tournament before Friday’s Round 2 and cancelled 5 other tournaments to come. It also announced that it was postponing the Masters in Augusta.
The European Tour’s Hero Indian Open, was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, as have all other scheduled tournaments. The European Tour schedule for 2020 season was:
- 11/28-12/1/19Hong Kong Open
- 11/28-12/1/19Alfred Dunhill Championship
- 12/5-12/8/19Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open
- 12/19-12/22/19Australian PGA Championship
- 1/9-1/12/20South African Open
- 1/16-1/19Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
- 1/23-1/26Omega Dubai Desert Classic
- 1/30-2/2Saudi International
- 2/6-2/9ISPS Handa Vic Open
- 2/20-2/23WGC-Mexico Championship
- 2/27-3/1 Oman Open
- 3/5-3/8Commercial Bank Qatar Masters
- 3/12-3/15Magical Kenya
- 3/19-3/22Hero Indian Open
- 3/25-3/29WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
- 4/9-4/12The Masters
- 4/16-4/19Maybank Championship
- 4/23-4/26Volvo China Open
- 4/30-5/3Estrella D. Andalucia Masters
- 5/9-5/10GolfSixes Cascals
- 5/14-5/17US PGA Championship
- 5/21-5/24Made in Denmark
- 5/28-5/31Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
- 6/4-6/7Trophee Hassan II
- 6/11-6/14Scandinavian Invitation
- 6/18-6/21US Open
- 6/25-6/28BMW International Open
- you have to believe that I had no idea this would be so long and that I just wanted to be helpful/informational…
- 7/2-7/5 Open de France
- 7/2-7/5WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational
- 7/9-7/12Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open
- 7/16-7/19The 149thOpen (British Open)
- 7/30-8/2Betfred British Masters
- 7/30-8/2Olympic Men’s Golf Competition
- 8/6-8/9UK event
- 8/20-8/23D+D Real Czech Masters
- 8/27-8/30Omega European Masters
- 9/3-9/6Porsche European Open
- at least I can keep this in the Commentary and just update it for the next year…
- 9/10-9/13BMW PGA Championship
- 9/17-9/20KLM Open
- 9/25-9/27The 2020 Ryder Cup
- 10/1-10/4Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
- 10/8-10/11Italian Open
- 10/15-10/18Mutuactivos Open de Espana
- 10/22-10/25Portugal Masters
- 10/29-11/1WGC-HSC Champions
- 11/5-11/8Turkish Airlines Open
- 11/12-11/15Nedbank Golf Challenge
- 11/19-11/22DP World Tour Championship
Augusta National Golf Club, announced November 9-15 as the intended dates to host the postponed 2020 Masters Tournament. The PGA announced last week that it will begin playing tournaments again in June. The PGA Championship is still on for August, with or without fans. Ironically, this was the first year that this major was moved from August to May, and now they had to move it back to August. It is very possible that golf, for a while, will be played without fans in attendance. Golf industry leaders have unveiled a three-phase plan to safely reopen golf courses across America.
The 100thNFL season ended last year, in Miami, in an entertaining 31-20 comeback victory for the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs had not won a Super Bowl since Super Bowl IV, 52 years ago, snapping the longest drought of any NFL team. The Bengals have the No.1 pick in the NFL Draft, unless they trade it away. The Patriots currently have 12 picks in the Draft and only a backup as a QB.
The NFL is in touch with the White House and is meeting with owners, networks, and sponsors to determine when to start the 2020 regular season and whether to have fans in the stands. Legendary Dolphins coach, Don Shula, passed away at age 90, on Monday 5/4. Somehow, this flew below the radar, but the newly organized and debuted XFL, this time Vince McMahon’s pro football league, has officially field for bankrtupcy. Even though it had only debuted days before the COVID-19 crisis, it still lost tens of millions of dollars, according to TMZ. On Thursday, the NFL released its full 2020 regular season schedules for all 32 teams. It has cancelled international games for the 2020 season, to cut down on travel contagion risk. The NFL commissioner, Goodell actually cut his $40 million/year outrageous salary to zero and initiated staff furloughs and salary reductions. He also made cuts in NFL’s pension plan for the league office, and employees at NFL Films and NFL Network. Already changing this business model! Yes, the Bucs, who never get televised nationally, suddenly will be on TV a few times, with their new QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski. The Las Vegas Raiders debut will be against the Saints on MNF.
In a surprise move to all of the Tennis Tours (ATP, FFT, WTA), French Open officials announced that the French Open, the red clay Major, will be postponed from May 24thto late September 24-October 4, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The controversial change may cause the French Open’s biggest winner, with 12 French Open titles, Rafael Nadal, to boycott the tournament. Apparently, the decision from leftfield by the Federation Francaise de Tennis was made without consultation with other stakeholders. There may be a schedule ripple effect on the US Open, which is currently scheduled to finish just a week before, so the French Open may lose players, and the Laver Cup, which was supposed to be played in the same week that the French Open is moving to. The potential boycott from Nadal comes, not only because he may also choose to play in the US Open instead, but also because he and Roger Federer are the ones who champion the Laver Cup exhibition team competition, with the leading players of the world, a fan favorite. Federer is actually more likely now to skip the French Open, as he is returning from knee surgery at Wimbledon, and has been leaning away from clay tournaments. If enough top-ranked players skip the French Open, can it still be considered a ‘Major’? The WTA suspended its tour until 5/2, amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The ATP suspended its matches for six weeks.
The 134th June 29-July 12 Wimbledon tournament was cancelled. It was the first time that this Major was cancelled since WWII. It will instead be played next year at its normal time, 6/28/21-7/11/21. Following the Wimbledon announcement, the WTA, ATP, and ITF postponed its matches another 5 weeks until 7/13. The US Open is still planning to play at its normal time in September, a week before the now rescheduled French Open. The tennis associations are still debating whether to have fans in the stadiums for matches.
With the mounting pressure, the IOC finally announced that the Summer Olympics, which were to start in July 2020, will be postponed until 2021. A virus has done what even a war couldn’t do; postpone an Olympics. This is the first time ever that a Summer Olympics was held on an odd year. The start of WWII in 1939, forced the 1940 Summer Olympics to be delayed a few weeks, and then canceled. The 1944 Olympic Games were also not held. The Summer Olympics did not begin again until London in 1948. But, they were never postponed. The Tokyo Olympics will begin in July 2021.
MMA continues, despite the pandemic and fanless fights. This Saturday is UFC 249.
Soccer’s 2020 European Championship, scheduled for Russia, has been postponed for a year because of the outbreak of the virus among the Norwegian and Swedish football associations, on Tuesday. The Premier League suspended their season, as did most of the top European leagues.All leagues are now discussing when to reopen and whether to have fans in the seats. Germany’s Bundesliga is expected to resume soccer games 5/16. The games will be played in empty stadiums, which could influence the results, as the home team won’t have the advantage of its cheering fans. However, research shows that it has less effect on the players and a raucous crowd influences the referees more.
After about 100 bowl games (it seems) over many weeks, the College Football Playoffs came down to 4 teams: No.1 and unbeaten LSU made easy work of No.4 Oklahoma 63-28 on 12/28, and No.3 Clemson won a close battle over No.2 Ohio State 29-23, on the same day. That left LSU to play Clemson for College Football National Championship. Despite LSU playing in the New Orleans Superdome (so, a home field/crowd advantage), and having the Heisman Trophy-winning QB Joe Burrow, they were down in the 2ndquarter 17-7 to Clemson star QB Trevor Lawrence, but came roaring back by halftime, and won 42-25, winning their first National Title since 2007.
COVID-19 caused the NCAA to cancel all spring men’s and women’s sports. The NCAA then announced that seniors would have another year of eligibility to play in their sports. However, they then changed that to include ALL players, not just seniors, would have an extra year of eligibility. I’m not sure how that works…if the player was good enough to make it to the Pros, then they’re probably going to go to the Pros and forego their 5thyear, or they are already foregoing their senior or junior year to go to the Pros. If they weren’t good enough for the Pros, a 5thyear of eligibility isn’t going to make a difference and just cost them or their family another year of college tuition and room and board. I guess it really helps the athletes who were borderline good enough for the Pros or were coming off of injuries. They might need the 5thyear to prove to Pro scouts that they are worthy. The NCAA is calling Kansas’ violations “egregious and severe”.
Here is the post-bowls, final AP Top 25 Poll:
- LSU 13-0
- Clemson 14-1
- Ohio State 13-1
- Georgia 12-2
- Oregon 12-2
- Florida 11-2
- Oklahoma 12-2
- Alabama 11-2
- Penn State 11-2
- Minnesota 11-2
- Wisconsin 10-4
- Notre Dame 11-2
- Baylor 11-3
- Auburn 9-4
- Iowa 10-3
- Utah 11-3
- Memphis 12-2
- Michigan 9-4
- Appalachian State 13-1
- Navy 11-2
- Cincinnati 11-3
- Air Force 11-2
- Boise State 12-2
- UCF 10-3
- Texas 8-5
Near the halfway point of the college hockey season, analysts were seeing Cornell University (my alma mater) and North Dakota as legitimate national title contenders to be in the Frozen Four. Cornell is currently ranked No.1 in the nation. That all froze, when the NCAA cancelled the college hockey season due to the COVID-19.
As teams entered their week of Conference Championship Tournaments, prior to the Committee’s decision on the 68 seeds for the National Championship (also known as March Madness), it all came to halt due to COVID-19. One after another conference cancelled their tournaments and the NCAA cancelled the National Championship, before it ever started.
I know this is a little weird, but Kentucky is No.1 on the early 2020-2021 Coach’s Poll basketball rankings. Gonzaga is No.2, followed by (in order) Baylor, Creighton, FSU, Villanova, Virginia, Duke, Iowa, and Texas Tech.
Here was the current AP Top 25 for the regular season:
- Kansas 28-3
- Gonzaga 29-2
- Dayton 29-2
- FSU 26-5
- Baylor 26-4
- San Diego State 30-2
- Creighton 24-7
- Kentucky 25-6
- Michigan State 22-9
- Duke 25-6
- Villanova 24-7
- Maryland 24-7
- Oregon 24-7
- Brigham Young 24-7
- Louisville 24-7
- Seton Hall 21-9
- Virginia 23-7
- Wisconsin 21-10
- Ohio State 21-10
- Auburn 25-6
- Illinois 21-10
- West Virginia 21-10
- Houston 23-8
- Butler 22-9
- Iowa 20-11
Last season ended in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on 6/12, when the St. Louis Blues beat my Bruins 4-3 in the Finals. The puck dropped on this season on 10/2/19.
We were approaching the long postseason, after 82 games, which should have ended again in June, and here were the current standings. In the Eastern Conference: in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins are in first with a smoking 44-14-12 record (best in NHL with 100 points) after breaking the Flyers win streak of 9 games Tuesday night on Tuuka Rask’s birthday, with the Lightning in second (tied for 2ndbest record); in the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals are in first with a 41-20-8 record ( tied for 3rd best in the NHL), followed by the Flyers in second. In the Western Conference: in the Central Division, the Stanley Cup Champion Blues are in first place at 41-19-10 (tied for 2ndbest in NHL), followed by the Avalanche in second (tied for 3rdbest in NHL) and the surprising Stars in third; in the Pacific Division, the Golden Knights lead with a 39-24-8 record, and the Golden Knights are just ahead of the Oilers in second place. The Canucks, who had been leading the Division through most of the season, have dropped to 4thplace. The worst team in the NHL continues to be the Red Wings, boasting a dreadful 17-49-5 record. This too, all came to an end, with the season at least being suspended, with no games to be played for a while.
The 31 NHL general managers said they intend to resume their regular season in July. The postseason will likely begin in August and September, and the off-season will be just October, and then return to the next regular season in November. There will be some obstacles to this plan though, the most important one being ice conditions in the heat of the summer months. Another interesting obstacle is that a number of players’ contracts expire on June 30. The NHL itself has not decided what to do. The NHL also said that if it plays the games without fans in the ice rinks, they will have to pump in artificial fan noise, because this sport, according to them, is impossible to play without crowd noise. I don’t know, the Florida Panthers have been doing that for years. Russian KHL says it will not name a champion team. Ducks re-signed Djoos and Hakanpaa to 1-year deals. Panthers agree with 1strounder Denisenko. Sharks signed goaltender Melnichuk, 21, from KHL. Devils have given ticket holders refund or donation option. The Maple Leafs signed KHL’s top-scoring defenseman Mikko Lehtonen. ESPN did a study and found that fans favor sport returning without spectators, rather than waiting.
This year, the NBA season did not start until 10/22/19, 18 days later than last year. We were nearing the playoffs. COVID-19 is having an impact on the NBA now, as the League suspended the NBA regular season indefinitely.
There was only a little over a month left in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and teams were still jockeying for a playoff position. The current standings are: Eastern Conference had No.1 Bucks, No.2 Raptors, No.3 Celtics, No.4 Heat, No.5 Pacers, No.6 76ers, and the rest were well behind; Western Conference has No.1 Lakers, No.2 Clippers, No.3 Nuggets, No.4 Jazz, No.5 Thunder, No.6 Rockets, and No.7 Mavs, and the rest were well behind.
Michael Jordan, who was just hitting on the driving range below my balcony yesterday, said that he thought the only player who could beat him 1-on-1 was Kobe Bryant. Speaking of Kobe Bryant, his wife opened a letter from Kobe, on her birthday Thursday.
For the first time since WWII, the Kentucky Derby was postponed.It will be run on 9/5/20, Labor Day weekend. Horse racing is expected to begin soon, but will likely be without in-person fans. Churchill Downs ran a virtual showdown of the 13 Triple Crown winners running the Kentucky Derby. Seattle Slew was leading from the wire, but Secretariat and Citation overtook Seattle Slew, and Secretariat won. It was very cool to watch! The production raised funds for COVID-19 relief charity.
NASCARfinally chose not to do ‘fan-less’ races and, instead, chose to postpone its race events through May 3, in accordance with safety protocols recommended by the CDC in response to COVID-19. Of the 3 major racing circuits, the NASCAR one has the potential to lose the most races in the 2020 schedule, perhaps as many as 10. Now NASCAR is expecting to start up their engines again, but without fans in the seats. Frankly, I thought the sport lent itself well to just being televised and, if they start up first among major sports, they are going to grab a lot of the sports fan audience. NASCAR announced on 4/30 that it would resume the season at Darlington Raceway on 5/17. There will be no fans in attendance at any of the races at Darlington.
In the NASCAR Cup Series of 2019, Kyle Busch won in the last race at Homestead. In 2018, the winner was Joey Logano, who beat Martin Truex Jr. in the final 15 laps of the final race at Homestead. Truex Jr. won the crown in 2017. The 2020 regular season will begin in February with the Daytona 500. Here is the complete schedule of races for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup in 2020 and the results:
2/16 Daytona 500
2/23 Las Vegas, Jiffy Lube Pennzoil 400
3/1 Auto Club 400
3/8 Phoenix, FanShield 500
3/15 Atlanta, Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
3/22 Homestead, Dixie Vodka 400
3/29 Texas, O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
4/5 Bristol, Food City 500
4/19 Richmond, Toyota Owners 400
4/26 Talladega, GEICO 500
5/3 Dover, NASCAR Cup Race at Dover
5/9 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Race at Martinsville
5/16 Charlotte, NASCAR All Star Open
5/24 Charlotte, Coca-Cola 600
5/31 Kansas, Kansas 400
6/7 Michigan, FireKeepers Casino 400
6/14 Sonoma, Toyota/Save Mart 350
6/21 Chicagoland, Chicagoland 400
6/28 Pocono, Worry-Free Weather Guarantee 350
7/5 Indianapolis, Big Machine Vodka 400
7/11 Kentucky, Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart
7/19 New Hampshire, Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
8/9 Michigan, Consumers Energy 400
8/16 Watkins Glen, Go Bowling at The Glen
8/23 Dover, Drydene 400
8/29 Daytona, Coke Zero Sugar 400
9/6 Darlington, Southern 500
9/12 Richmond, Federated Auto Parts 400
9/19 Bristol, Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
9/27 Las Vegas, South Point 400
10/4 Talladega, Alabama 500
10/11 Charlotte, Bank of America ROVAL 400
10/18 Kansas, Hollywood Casino 400
10/25 Texas, Texas 500
11/1 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Fall Race
11/8 Phoenix, NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Formula Onebegins with F1 Car Launch Dates for the various teams from 2/12 through 2/15 for Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, and Ferrari. That will be followed by Pre-Season Testing schedule. Three F1 team members have been placed in isolation over COVID-19 fears. The opening of the season has been delayed at least until 5/3, although they refuse to confirm date change for that race to later, despite the likelihood that the Dutch Grand Prix probably can’t be staged on 5/3. F1 is considering having an abbreviated 19 race season, when it begins. It was set to have a record 22-race season, when pre-season testing ended and the Australia Grand Prix was about to run. Then, COVID-19, upset the race schedule and also took down F1’s (FWONK) share price, initially down 25%, and now down 40% from it January 2020 high of over $48.00/share. I will be posting the 2020 Formula One calendar in the next Repo Commentary:
3/17 Australia Grand Prix in Melbourne-won by V. Bottas
3/31 Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir-won by Lewis Hamilton
4/14 China Grand Prix in Shanghai (this will be the 1000thGrand Prix)-won by Lewis Hamilton
4/28 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku-won by V. Bottas
5/12 Spain Grand Prix in Barcelona-won by Lewis Hamilton
5/26 Monaco Grand Prix in Monaco-won by Lewis Hamilton
6/9 Canada Grand Prix in Montreal-won by Lewis Hamilton
6/23 France Grand Prix in Le Castellet-won by Lewis Hamilton
6/30 Austria Grand Prix in Spielberg-won by Max Verstappen
7/14 Great Britain Grand Prix in Silverstone-won by Lewis Hamilton
7/28 Germany Grand Prix in Hockenheim-won by Max Verstappen
8/4 Hungary Grand Prix in Budapest-Lewis Hamilton
9/1 Belgium Grand Prix in Spa-Charles Leclerc
9/8 Italy Grand Prix in Monza-Charles Leclerc
9/22 Singapore Grand Prix in Singapore-Sebastian Vettel
9/29 Russia Grand Prix in Sochi-Lewis Hamilton
10/13 Japan Grand Prix in Suzuka-V. Bottas
10/27 Mexico Grand Prix in Mexico City-Lewis Hamilton
11/3 USA Grand Prix in Austin, TX-V. Bottas
11/17 Brazil Grand Prix in Sao Paulo-M. Verstappen
12/1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Yas Island
Here is the IndyCar Racingcircuit and its 2019 calendar and results (Indy cars are generally considered faster than F1 car along straight lines, mostly because their races are on oval tracks, while F1 tracks are more intricate, requiring better brakes and more aerodynamic grip than Indy cars). The season just ended, with Josef Newgarden coming in 8thin the last race, to just edge out Simon Pagenaud for the championship. I will be posting the 2020 calendar when they post the updated one:
3/10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg-Josef Newgarden
3/24 Circuit of the Americas-Colton Herta
4/7 Grand Prix of Alabama-Takuma Sato
4/14 Grand Prix at Long Beach-Alexander Rossi
5/11 Grand Prix of Indianapolis-Simon Pagenaud
5/26 Indianapolis 500-Simon Pagenaud
6/1 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 1-Josef Newgarden
6/1 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 2-Scott Dixon
6/8 Texas Grand Prix-Josef Newgarden
6/23 Road America-Alexander Rossi
7/14 Honda Indy Toronto-Simon Pagenaud
7/20 Iowa 300-Josef Newgarden
7/28 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio-Scott Dixon
8/18 Pocono Grand Prix-Will Power (I love that name!)
8/24 Gateway Grand Prix-Takuma Sato
9/1 Grand Prix of Portland-Will Power (that’s all it takes)
9/22 Grand Prix at Laguna Seca-Colton Herta
IndyCar Racing also hit the brakes on the 2020 season, due to the COVID-19. So, instead of the first race running in mid-March, the first race is now scheduled for 5/9, basically losing 4 races from the 2019 schedule. Here is the updated 2020 schedule (unless it gets changed again because of the pandemic):
5/09 GMR Grand Prix, Indianapolis, IN
5/24 104thIndy 500, Indianapolis, IN
5/31 Chevrolet Duel in Detroit, MI
6/06 Genesys 600 in Texas
6/21 Rev Group Grand Prix at Road America
6/27 Indy Richmond 300
7/12 Honda Indy Toronto
7/18 Iowa 300
8/16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio
8/22 Bommarito Automotive Group 500
9/06 Grand Prix of Portland
9/20 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey
Macy’s 4thof July fireworks are still on, but they will be without fans. I’m not sure how that is going to work, are they preventing us from looking up? I also don’t understand how Macy’s files for bankruptcy, at least once or twice, closes most of its stores, but still puts on the Thanksgiving Day extravaganza parade and the 4thof July fireworks display. Carnival Cruises announced on 05/04 that they plan on resuming a limited number of cruises out of Florida in August. I don’t know if those are the shorter Norovirus cruises or longer Coronavirus cruises. The Pentagon has released a video of Tuesday’s flyover by the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels. It’s actually two videos, one from the perspective of the Blue Angels squadron and one from the perspective of the Thunderbirds squadron. It is so cool! The flyovers over New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were in honor of all the healthcare and essential workers fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now believed that a US Navy destroyer, operating in the Pacific Ocean, picked up COVID-19 cases from drug smugglers that it had picked up, according to the Secretary of Defense. How it had managed to get COVID-19 aboard the ship has been a mystery. National and State parks have started to reopen in the US, giving people a chance to get back in touch with nature. An Amsterdam restaurant came up with a unique way of keeping diners and enhancing their dining experience, while protecting them from COVID-19, by building individual greenhouses for each table:
More than 1.5 billion people around the world are still ordered to stay-at-home because of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. As of this morning (5/10), globally, more than 281,287 people have died from COVID-19. More than 4,077,594 people have been infected with COVID-19. On the positive side, more than 1,394,509 people have totally recovered. The WHO says the virus has spread to at least 175 out of 190 countries. Several countries have experienced large outbreaks (including China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Spain, US, and France). Spain’s COVID-19 confirmed cases total of 223,578 as of 5/10, makes it 2ndonly to the US. Spain has had at least 26,478 deaths from COVID-19, which ranks it 4thin total deaths. Italy, suffered very early in Europe, with total confirmed cases in Italy of 219,070 as of 5/10, leaving it behind US and Spain, and UK, but ahead of Russia, France, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, and China, in that order of Confirmed Cases. Italy has had 30,560 deaths as of 5/10 from COVID-19, slipping to 3rd most behind the US and UK. This is the first time that I am seeing the UK surge to being on the map, No.3 now in confirmed cases (as of 5/10) of 220,449, and No.2 in deaths with 31,930.
The US is the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, at 1,320,362 (as of 5/10), almost one-third of the world’s total. The death toll from COVID-19 in the US, as of 5/10, is now 79,180, and highest in the world. However, 212,534 (as of 5/10) have recovered from the virus. One of the reasons that the number of confirmed cases keep rising is because the US has now tested over 8.7 million people. The United States has about 4.3% of the world’s population at about 328,000,000 and more than 30% of the world’s COVID-19 cases.
New York is the worst-hit state by COVID-19. As of 5/10, there have been 26,670 deaths in the state, marking it 4th on the list of deaths if it were a country. Gov. Cuomo made a controversial directive ordering nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients. He, himself, has described nursing homes as a “feeding frenzy” for COVID-19, and other states (particularly New Jersey) have dealt with horrific findings in nursing homes recently, said that the facilities cannot challenge a state regulation forcing them to admit patients with the virus. However, he did say that the state would finally give nursing homes the COVID-19 tests for patients. In the Governor’s defense, he said that there are vacancies in nursing homes and similar facilities, and if the particular facility cannot provide adequate care for the patient, they can call the state Department of Health, who will transfer the patient. This reminds me of the approach by Sweden, in quarantining the ill and the most at-risk. At least 3,400 nursing home residents in NY state have died from COVID-19. The virus has spread like wildfire through many nursing homes across the Northeast. Pennsylvania joined New York and other states on 3/29 in ordering nursing homes to admit medically stable residents with the virus. I’m not a doctor (I just play one on TV) but putting people who are infected in an enclosed population of your highest risk elderly, seems like a bad idea to me. I think a month later, the devastating data of deaths in nursing homes shows that that was a bad idea. New York continues to take a beating from this pandemic, as a ‘shocking’ two-thirds of patients recently hospitalized in NY actually had been staying home. Is that a sign that the herd immunity thing works better? A Cape Cod field hospital, in a gym at Joint Base Cape Cod, with 94 beds, has closed without seeing a single COVID-19 patient. There are still 4 other field hospitals in Massachusetts. As hospitals were overrun by COVID-19 patients in other countries, the US Army Corps of Engineers mobilized here in the US, hiring private contractors to build emergency field hospitals around the country. NPR reports that the cost of that endeavor was more than $660 million, and nearly 4 months into the pandemic, most of these facilities haven’t treated a single patient, in NY, Long Island, Chicago, Denver, D.C., Memphis, Miami Beach, Wisconsin, Michigan, NJ, and Detroit.
Here is an interesting story, in 4 US state prisons in Ohio, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia, Reuters reports, 3,300 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, and 96% of them displayed no symptoms. The figures suggest that people who are asymptomatic, contagious but not physically ill, may be the driving force in the spread of the virus, not only in US state prisons (that house 1.3 million inmates) but also in communities all over the globe. This calls into question whether only testing people who are suspected of being infected and showing at least 2 of the symptoms really works in capturing the spread of the virus. It also means we are drastically undercounting the number of cases. By the way, total incarcerated population in the US at all levels of imprisonment, in 2017, was nearly 2.3 million.
France is reporting having 82 heart incidents linked to using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. Hydroxychloroquine was the hot topic in terms of treatments for many weeks, but now the focus is on Gilead’s Remdesivir. Sometimes, you will notice that I catch you up on some news that I may have missed. I don’t know what that is, maybe I’m a pseudo-journalist, maybe I feel responsible, or maybe I’m just OCD. Here is something I failed to mention that was odd, when Vice President Mike Pence, who is the commander of the nation’s COVID-19 Taskforce, visited the esteemed Mayo Clinic, where some of the most ill patients have to go to get diagnosis and treatment, he was the only one in several photo ops who is not wearing a facemask. Mayo Clinic, decades before COVID-19, has a facemask wearing policy, which he totally ignored. Other people have commented on his close proximity to the President, when President Trump is giving his daily public briefings, again without mask, and apparently not 6 feet away. There is a mysterious illness among some 64 children in New York, by Wednesday, called Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome, somehow associated with COVID-19. The CDC is studying the Syndrome and the American Heart Association issued an advisory. French researchers think that nicotine patches may work as a treatment for COVID-19. The more we learn about COVID-19, the less we seem to understand. Originally, the disease was seen as a respiratory ailment, bringing fibrosis to the lungs. But, now there’s mounting evidence that COVID-19 can cause serious damage to the heart, to the neurological system, and to the kidneys. In addition, in young people, it has sometimes caused sudden strokes. There have also been reports of COVID-19 patients getting blood clots.
On Thursday, Forbes ran an article that laid out the case, from doctors and leading epidemiologists, that “the average healthy person does not need to have a mask, and they shouldn’t be wearing masks. There’s no evidence that wearing masks on healthy people will protect them.” In fact, if they wear them incorrectly, they can increase the risk of infection because they’re touching their face more often to adjust the mask. I had read early on that the idea of the mask was really to get you to stop touching your face an average of 90 times per day. The mask is actually ineffective at stopping droplets being passed in or out, since the virus is not transmitted through the air to be breathed in. The masks are actually designed for people who are sick to keep the droplets IN and not infect other people. To keep the virus out, you would need a respirator or a medical respirator that healthcare workers wear to treat highly contagious patients.
More than 700 employees at a Tyson Foods meat factory in Perry, Iowa, have tested positive for COVID-19, as the nation is already facing a meat shortage due to a supply chain problem. This was in addition to the nearly 900 workers at a Tyson Foods plant in Indiana that already tested positive for COVID-19. The company has been forced to slow production and close plants in Dakota City, NE and Pasco, WA. A Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, SD also closed in April after 2 workers died and 783 tested positive for COVID-19.
There has been much debate about how the WHO, countries, states, and counties have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, and which responses were the best and which ones unnecessarily cratered small businesses and economies. There are the extremes with Sweden on one end of the spectrum and China on the other end, with the US somewhere closer to the China end, along with the rest of Europe. The best thing I’ve seen written on the subject, popped up today on my radar screen, an article written by the American Institute of Economic Research on 5/1/20, “Woodstock Occurred in the Middle of a Pandemic.” I encourage you to read this well-written article, to get a different perspective on the current COVID-19 pandemic in contrast to a very similar Hong Kong Flu pandemic in 1969, and wildly different approaches to containment of the virus. I was 9-years-old at the time and remember a bit about the Hong Kong Flu, but the fact that not many people do remember it, is partly because it was treated very differently. It was handled by the medical profession, not by politicians and soldiers, and it was hyped up by a frenzy-machine media. And, as the title suggests, there were a lot of other things capturing our national and global attention at the time: Woodstock Festival (which changed the course of music forever), civil-rights movement, Vietnam War, Apollo mission to the Moon, student protests, and the sexual revolution. Although, the H3N2 pandemic killed more people in the US than the combined total number of fatalities in both the Vietnam and Korean Wars, over 100,000 of a population of 200 million at the time (versus 79,000 of a current population of 328 million people for COVID-19), and most of the people who died were over the age of 65. Clearly, the medical profession felt it was dangerous mainly for a “non-concert-going demographic”. For more, here is the article: https://www.aier.org/article/woodstock-occurred-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic/
I’m keeping this Public Service Announcement in the Repo Commentary for readers, for now:
How do you know if you have COVID-19? The CDC says the following are symptoms which may appear 2-14 days after exposure:
- Severe sore throat that moves to the lungs.
- Severe headaches (although not everyone is presenting with headaches)
- Fever (although not everyone is presenting with a fever)
- Oz, and celebrities confirmed, that if you don’t present a fever, you will lose the sense of smell and taste for the duration of the virus.This is a new symptom or tell-tale sign. After you have rid the virus, your senses of smell and taste return within weeks. This ‘anosmia’ is occurring in about 30% of the cases, those that are mild or moderate.
- Cough (for Asthmatics, this would be a dry cough as opposed to the damp cough they are accustomed to). This dry cough is affecting at least 1/3 of all patients and feels like it is coming from the breastbone or sternum and feels like the bronchial tubes are inflamed, and may include coughing up sputum from the lungs.
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive or stomach issues, which have been in about half of the patients.
- Chills and body aches
- Pink eye, about 3% of patients are experiencing conjunctivitis
- Major fatigue
The CDC says the following are symptoms which are EMERGENCY WARNING SIGNS REQUIRING IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION (this list is not all inclusive):
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Sudden confusion or inability to wake up
- Bluish lips or face
With the WHO globally and the CDC domestically urging “social distancing” to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, they recommend the following steps (obviously certain states, cities, and countries have adopted even more severe measures):
- Stay home if you are mildly ill with COVID-19, except to get medical care. Do not visit public places.
- Stay in touch with your doctor. Call before you get medical care, so that the office can protect themselves and other patients. Be sure to get emergency care if you worsen or have any of those symptoms.
- Oz says that there are signs that taking Vitamin C and Zinc at the first signs or even as preventive medicine, could be effective against COVID-19 infection and recovery. Of course, some other doctors have come out and said that there was never verifiable proof that Vitamin C or Zinc helped with other viruses or the common cold.
- Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
- Stay away from others, as much as possible, including people in your home. Try to do as much ‘home isolation’ as possible, staying in a designated “sick room” with a separate bathroom, if available, and away from other people in your home.
- Limit contact with your pets and animals. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals contracting COVID-19 from humans, it is still recommended for those with the virus to limit contact with animals, until more information is known.
- When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you have COVID-19. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you have COVID-19, wash your hands before and after you interact with them.
- If you are sick, you should wear a facemask when you are around other people and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
- If you are caring for others who are sick, you should wear a facemask.Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw used tissues in a lined trash can. Wash hands immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. On average, we touch our nose and mouth about 90 times per day, without realizing it.
- Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in your home. After using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water or clean in a dishwasher.
- Daily clean disinfect high-touch surfaces (phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables) in your “sick room” and bathroom. Let someone else clean and disinfect surfaces in common areas of your home, but only you in your “sick room” and bathroom. If a caregiver must clean and disinfect a sick person’s bedroom or bathroom, they should do so on an as-needed basis. The caregiver should wear a mask and wait as long as possible after the sick person has used the bathroom.
- The CDC says that people with the following underlying health conditions BEFORE contracting COVID-19 are at higher risk (this is not a complete list):
- Chronic lung disease or asthma
- Heart failure or heart disease
- Sickle cell anemia
- Cancer or undergoing chemotherapy
- Kidney disease and dialysis
- Body Mass Index over 40
- Autoimmune disorder
- Recent transplant patients
- Per the CDC, people with COVID-19 may discontinue home isolation if:
- You will have a test to determine if you are still contagious
- You no longer have a fever without the use of medicine that reduces fevers.
- AND other symptoms have improved.
- AND you received 2 negative tests in a row, 24 hours apart.
- Or, if you will not have a test to determineif you are still contagious, then these 3 things must happen, before ending home isolation:
- You have had no fever for at least 72 hours, without the use of medicine that reduces fevers.
- Other symptoms have improved (cough, shortness of breath, etc.)
- AND at least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.
- You will have a test to determine if you are still contagious
There have been major furloughs at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History due to COVID-19. A 58-year-old woman in South Carolina, who had just finished doing a homeowner’s nails, went out back to a pond in the gated community and took pictures of and tried to touch an alligator in the water. The woman may have been a little tipsy from wine. She fell into the water, was bitten by the alligator, then resurfaced, grabbing a rope thrown by the homeowners, saying “I guess I won’t do this again,” and then was struck again by the gator and dragged underwater. She died of drowning, although her leg was badly torn up. A deputy who responded shot the alligator in the head. She is only the 3rdperson in South Carolina ever to die from an alligator attack. It is believed that COVID-19 found its way to America from Asia, China specifically. Another invader from Asia, an invasive species that is popping up all over the internet and social media, is the Asian giant hornet. The larger (2 inches) than normal “murder hornet”, as it has been dubbed, is our newest 2020 worry, although it is not really a concern for humans, but rather for our beleaguered bees. The ‘murder hornet’ seems to have no interest in humans, but loves the taste of bees. Bee populations have been decimated due to human pesticides and blight in the US, so they are ill-prepared for this hungry foreigner. These hornets apparently enter a “slaughter phase” during which they decapitate honeybees and destroy entire hives in the span of a few hours. The murder hornets were first found in December in the State of Washington, but have now been seen in parts of British Columbia, and seem to be moving East. The internet has latched onto another bizarre development of 2020, said well by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, who tweeted last Saturday, “Murder hornets. Sure thing, 2020. Give us everything. Hypno-frogs. Fecal blizzards. Toilet tsunamis. A CATS sequel. We can take it.” For those of you on San Francisco trails, be cautious, as rattlesnakes are now out and about. Have you read about the incredible increase in bird-watching because of the lockdown? Sometimes, I really don’t know where to put some news items, as you have probably noticed. So, there are some business coaches that now believe that to be a leader, one needs to be comfortable with “I don’t know” as an answer, which will make one less likely to lose their credibility and/or get side-tracked by poorly thought out initiatives. The same coaches now instruct leaders to turn vulnerability into a strength in the business environment.
Musical legend, Little Richard, who uniquely changed music, has died, at age 87. Richard Wayne Penniman was arguably the King of Rock n’ Roll with Elvis Presley. In the mid-1950s, Little Richard (and Chuck Berry) broke out red hot lyrics and signature guitar licks that changed music, leading to the menacing explosive music of Jerry Lee Lewis, and the phenomenon that was/is Elvis. Little Richard flaunted convention long before The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and established a showmanship foundation that gave rise to Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury and Prince. If we have to still name Elvis as the King of Rock n’ Roll, then Little Richard invented the role of the rock star, decades before it existed. I will be the first in line for the inevitable biopic about Little Richard.
We lost another musical soul, literally the soul singer, Betty Wright, at age 66. Bessie Regina Norris is famous for Grammy-award winning “Where Is The Love?” and rolled out hits in the 70s and 80s, up through 1988. She never stopped though, and became a vocal coach on the reality series Making the Band. Last night, we lost another big star, comedian/actor Jerry Stiller, at age 92. He was one half of the comedy duo with his wife Anne Meera, who passed in 2015, and father to actor/comedian/producers Ben Stiller and Amy Stiller. Jerry’s career was revitalized with his famous role on Seinfeld. I was actually blessed to be at the NY Friar’s Club Roast of Jerry Stiller, at the Hilton Hotel in NYC in 1999, where Jason Alexander hosted and all the famous comedians showed up to roast his father. I wound up at Donald Trump’s table, sitting next to him the entire night. We had a lot of laughs and the entire black-tie evening was filmed by Comedy Central, and would air frequently for about 5 years. It was my first time meeting Mr. Trump, and he actually remembered my name the next time I saw him. It was my 5 minutes of fame on TV, with the two of us on camera laughing at a handful of raunchy jokes. Katy Perry has been interviewed about her pregnancy hormones and the “COVID 30”. I thought it was COVID 15, referring to the 15 lbs everyone is gaining during the pandemic lockdown. I actually lost 8 more lbs during the pandemic, since 3/17. European cities, particularly those in Scandinavia, have launched drive-in concert series with great success. This has sort of taken after the drive-in movie rebirth. All complies with social distancing and hygiene mandates of the pandemic. According to Forbes, up to 500 music fans in Aarhus, Denmark were able to enjoy a concert on a makeshift venue/stage from their cars. Now, there’s was on a specific FM frequency, so people could tune in their car radios to the concert. Lithuania has launched a similar drive-in set up to host concerts. I actually took part in a concert last week, with about 30 cars in a restaurant parking lot and their windows down. Pharrell just bought a $30 million mansion in Coral Gables. Philippine telecoms body, the National Telecommunications Commission, has ordered the country’s leading broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp to cease operations on Tuesday. President Rodrigo Duterte’s loyalists dominate the Parliament and he has repeatedly threatened to block the renewal of the franchise, after the channel angered him during the 2016 presidential election, by refusing to air his campaign commercials. Besides the sharp contrast to the American Right of Free Speech, one would think that it wouldn’t be a good idea to shut down the main media outlet during a pandemic, when you need to inform the public. Do you remember when Kanye West, husband of Kim Kardashian, was forced to file bankruptcy, because, although he was worth $100 million at the time, he had $53 million in debt? He needed protection from creditors. It actually doesn’t matter what your net worth is, as it doesn’t affect who is eligible for bankruptcy protection, and creditors can cause conditions that give rise to bankruptcy filings, like lawsuits, judgments, and liens. There can be garnished wages or assets seized or frozen. Filing bankruptcy stops all of those actions by creditors with a stay. I’m explaining all that because I have a new section below, specifically about Corporate Bankruptcies. Anyway, back to the Kanye story, just a few years after filing for bankruptcy, Forbes just announced that he was now worth over $1 billion. In fact, his clothing company is valued at over $3 billion. On Thursday, Brian Howe, Bad Company singer died from cardiac arrest, at age 66. Axl Rose and Lil’ Stevie have gotten into a Twitter spat, after Axl decided to attack Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on Twitter. Axl has had a problem multiple times with President Trump playing GNR songs without permission at events. Spotify assembled a roster of actors from the HARRY POTTER movies, along with other celebrities, to read chapters of the books. Daniel Radcliffe kicked things off by reading chapter one. Here we go again, The Simpsons, in a 1993 episode, had a plot with the people of Springfield encountering a dangerous virus and killer bees, in the same episode. Well, bees aren’t ‘hornets’ and the virus wasn’t called COVID-19, but…This is sad, legendary magician and animal trainer Roy Horn, of the partnership/entertainment duo, Siegfried & Roy of Las Vegas, has died at age 75, from COVID-19. I had the pleasure of seeing the two magicians shows and their amazing animals (especially tigers, lions and leopards) twice in Las Vegas, and their nearby zoo at least twice. I actually was in the front stage pit once and petted 600-lb Montecore, a Siberian tiger, who Roy led by on a 3-foot long leash. This is the same cat that was involved in the incident that injured Roy’s neck on stage during a performance in 2003, and shut down the show for good. It was never determined whether the big cat was attacking Roy or was protecting Roy, dragging him from the stage by the neck. Roy felt it was the latter, and never had Montecore put down and continued to live with him and the other cats roaming his estate with Siegfried Fischbacher. I watched Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy special, 23 Hours to Kill, and it was hysterical. The show was filmed at NYC’s Beacon Theater, which was near 5 of my apartments in my 26 years there. Despite my constant laughter, the show was actually panned by some critics. Jill Scott and Erykah Badu have delighted fans with an Instagram Live battle on Saturday night. These musical battles, kind of like The Voice, which I used to watch on network TV (before I discovered Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube TV during the pandemic), have become very popular between well-known performers for their fans. There was an active participant, self-proclaimed ‘hugger-in-chief’ Michelle Obama on Twitter. I’m sorry, I’m busy binge-watching Madmen, finally, after binge-watching Waco, Ozark Boys, and Las Vegas, in the past few weeks. In board games, I have graduated from Scattagory, to Cards Against Humanity, to Sequence. Enough about me, Mariah Carey, John Legend, and others honored Andre Harrell, the influential music mogul, who just died at age 59. There are instances, when I report something that actually is completely foreign to me, but I assume some of you younger people want to know (before you get off of my lawn!), Diplo has confirmed that he has welcomed a son Pace, his first child with Jevon King. Hopefully, that means something to someone reading. Dave Grohy, of Foo Fighters, says their new album is like David Bowie’s album “Let’s Dance”. Really. David Bowie, glam-king? Freddie Mercury’s idol? I have a friend who keeps telling me that he is “righteous”, which makes me say to him, “I don’t think people call themselves ‘righteous’. I think it’s like having someone else pronounce you ‘dead.’ Otherwise, it’s sort of self-contradictory. Gwen Stefani made her virtual Grand Ole Opry debut alongside Blake Shelton. Rachael Ray showed off her massive weight loss in a new photo. Alanis Morissette postponed her Jagged Little Pill tour. Princess Love has filed for divorce from Ray J. Bono unveiled the 60 songs that ‘saved his life’ for his 60thbirthday.
Technology & Space News:
I expected we would see this news, sooner or later, as less Americans are going out to restaurants, events, and bars, where they drink and may need ride-sharing home. San Francisco is seeing now a lot of Uber layoffs, following Lyft and Airbnb. Tesla is talking about restarting its Fremont, CA manufacturing plant, which would be a shelter-in-place violation. I know that I was paying attention to Cinco de Mayo, which fell on Taco Tuesday, the almost full moon, and my tacos and a margarita. So, I missed that Halley’s Comet brought a cool meteor shower on Cinco de Mayo. US and UK officials are warning of cyberattacks on hospitals and research facilities. Thousands of small businesses approved for PPP 1 loans through online lenders Lendio and Ready Capital have yet to see their money. The companies say that “outside factors” and the need for additional info from borrowers are part of the problem. Facebook’s Libra has named HSBC legal head as new CEO. Facebook unveiled its new “Supreme Court” for content, a 20-member new oversight board that will be tasked with determining what kind of content should be allowed on the social media platform. The panel will be headed by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former PM of Denmark. The board will decide for itself which content cases it judges. Scientists have developed a prototype plasma jet in hopes of advancing a technology that might one day be capable of powering commercial airliners. A black hole has been discovered within 1,011 light-years of Earth, by far the closest one. Scientists estimate that this black hole has about 4 times the mass of our Sun and its located in a star system that we humans can actually see with our naked eyes, according to National Geographic. We certainly noticed things that did not function during the pandemic, some of them because of the sheer volume of people in the same boat. But, did you notice, the Internet worked? Certain specific programs like bank loan applications, mortgage refinancing applications, unemployment online systems, etc. malfunctioned, but the overall Internet had no problems. Volvo will be turning out a self-driving car that features LIDAR. Google’s ‘The Keyword’ is an app that is getting kids comfortable using online tools to learn and read. I bet that many of you don’t even know what microfiche is, nor had to do research for a paper in a library using microfiche machines to look at old newspaper articles. Well, with some help from machine learning, a project led by the Library of Congress may lead to the full retirement of microfiche. The project organizes millions of photos and images from newspapers for more than 100 years. Spotify created a link to see which songs 2 people are listening to at the same time, thousands of miles apart. I’m not sure what the applications for that are. Sociologists believe that the future might bring more ‘in-app’ dating. I know there were some famous ad-men or maybe politicians who said something like, “any publicity is good publicity”. I think I’ve been accused of marching to the beat of that drum occasionally. Well, somehow, Elon Musk, makes the statement untrue, at times. Okay, we’ve been dealing with him up in our business, securities lending, trying the age-old complaint that securities lending is bad because it allows people to ‘short’ stock, which then brings down stock prices and hurts businesses, like Tesla. Of course, it’s the chicken and the egg, because many people short stock because the company’s earnings or forecast are poor, so already not doing well, and they expect the stock’s price to go down, so they short it to make a profit. Securities Lending is simply the grease that makes all liquidity work, not the fault of a company not doing well. But, anyway, he has brought up that old debate. Now, he is running afoul of the Governor of California, by lashing out after the state and the county blocked the early reopening of his manufacturing plant. He is not threatening to pick up and leave California with his manufacturing plant. He said he is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County, after a health officer said it wasn’t appropriate for the carmaker to reopen. Musk feels this whole shutdown has been “fascist” and he is seriously considering moving out of Fremont, CA. At least, he’s not blaming securities lending for this issue. BuzzFeed News reports that food delivery service, Grubhub, collected record fees of $363 million from January through March, up 12% from the same quarter a year ago. These fees, along with fees from other food delivery services, which often range from 15% to 30%, make orders less profitable for restaurants who expect to lose $240 billion due to the pandemic shut-down. San Francisco and Seattle recently implemented emergency fee caps on delivery services, but Grubhub has not reduced fees in other markets during the pandemic. NYC lawmakers have proposed capping delivery service fees at 10%. Consumers have filed a lawsuit against Grubhub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates last month, accusing them of using their monopoly power to charge restaurants high fees that are then passed on to customers during the financially catastrophic pandemic, kind of like ‘up-charging’ or ‘surge pricing’ from ride-share services. Some restaurants have accused Grubhub of setting up shadow websites of the restaurants they deliver for, competing directly with those restaurants’ own websites for customers. I think it’s interesting that Uber’s business model has taken a beating from stay-at-home orders, but their Uber-Eats business model is booming. An artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm combining brain MRI scans along with cognitive test, age, and gender data enabled an accurate prediction of Alzheimer’s disease risk. It even predicted better in diagnosing than neurologists.
As you know, the House of Representatives decided the COVID-19 threat was too high, so chose to take this week off too, and not return to Washington, D.C. That wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but CARES 2 legislation, a mirror image $2 trillion package to CARES 1 (signed into law in March) is already on the table for them to consider. House Speaker Pelosi said that the Capitol physician recommended that they not come back.
The President’s Plan to reopen the country, after near complete lockdown, outlines “Proposed State or Regional Gating Criteria” that includes 14-day downward trajectory of influenza-like and COVID-19 Symptoms, 14-day downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 Casesor downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests, and Hospitalstreating all patients without crisis care and robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers (including emerging antibody testing) thresholds that have to be met, prior to proceeding to Phased Opening. The plan also has ‘recommendations’ for state preparedness and Federal help on sourcing testing and medical supplies for States. In the Phased Opening, where general terms will be interpreted specifically for each State or Region, PHASE 1, with continued sanitation protocols and strict physical distancing, would allow elective surgeries to begin, gyms to open, restaurants to open (but not bars), movie theaters to open, sporting venues to open, and places of worship to open. It would still encourage telework and return to work in phases and minimize non-essential travel. PHASE 2, with continued sanitation and distancing protocols, would still have all vulnerable individuals sheltering-in-place, but would allow non-essential travel, still encourage telework, reopen schools, still prohibit visits to senior care facilities and hospitals, and allow bars to open. PHASE 3, would lift all restrictions, as long as sanitation protocols and certain limits are followed.
Several states, starting 4/24, have made moves, not complying with Federal guidelines, and began reopening sections or completely. About a dozen other states, made moves the other way, extending their stay-at-home orders. By Sunday, some 43 States will have at least partial reopenings. With the disparity between state Governors and party affiliations, this section may prove to be valuable as a roadmap for the near future. Here are the latest updates on how each state is handling re-opening (or not):
ALABAMA-Gov. Ivey extended a stay-at-home order until 5/15. He has expanded the number of testing sites. They have announced a task force to reopen the state’s economy. Will transition to a new Safer At Home Order, which encourages people to stay at home and follow good sanitation practices, reopens some businesses (with sanitation and social distancing guidelines), reopens all retail stores subject to 50% occupancy rate (with sanitation and social distancing guidelines), opens beaches (but no gatherings of 10 persons or more and people must be at least 6 feet apart), and opens up medical procedures.
ALASKA-Gov. Dunleavy issued a 5 phase Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan, with Phase 1 implementation on 4/24 opening most non-essential businesses with safeguards, 25% capacity for most businesses (except outdoor), small gatherings of less than 20 people, social distancing and no waiting rooms, elective medical services, restaurants open but bars/theaters/bowling alleys/bingo parlors/gaming centers remain closed, interstate and international travelers still required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Alaska, and schools closed for rest of year.
ARIZONA-Gov. Ducey issued a Returning Stronger plan, which extended the stay-at-home order to 5/15 with modifications. Retail businesses can begin curbside pickup on 5/4 and in-person operations on 5/8, with safeguards. Arizona will allow restaurants to offer dine-in services in May.
*ARKANSAS-Gov. Hutchinson never issued a stay-at-home order, now has been issuing Directives on Resuming certain operations: large indoor venues 5/18, restaurant dine-in operations 5/11, elective dental service 5/11, barber shops/body art/cosmetology/massage/therapy/spas 5/6, large outdoor venues 5/4, gym/fitness centers 5/4, elective medical procedures 4/27, and camps 4/17. One of only 7 states to not issue a stay-at-home order.
CALIFORNIA-Gov. Newsom issued a stay-at-home order that has no end date. He just extended social distancing into June. He also made a pact with Oregon Gov. Brown and Washington Gov. Inslee on 4/13. On 5/1, Governor Newsom closed all state parks and beaches across California, despite the heatwave in Southern California. Authorities have been battling with skatepark/boardpark and dirt bike enthusiasts who continue to try to use public parks. The Governor has spoken to all the California police chiefs about enforcing his orders, particularly after thousands of people have been flocking to Orange County beaches. Gov. Newsom announced a new property tax relief order. COVID-19, according to MercuryNews, has blown a $54 billion hole in California’s budget. Gov. Newsom said that we are now moving into Stage 2 on his Resiliency Recovery Roadmap, during which some lower-risk workplaces can gradually open with adaptations. This includes: agriculture, auto dealerships, communications infrastructure, construction, delivery services, energy/utilities, food packing, hotels & lodging, life sciences, logistics and warehousing, manufacturing, mining and logging, office workspaces, public transit, real estate transactions, and retail (curbside pickup and delivery).
COLORADO-Gov. Polis extended the state’s stay-at-home order until 4/26, but many communities, especially Denver, extended that order to 5/8. The state has transitioned to a “safer-at-home” order. This includes requiring face masks in public places, resuming limited public masses, retail beginning curbside services, and bars and restaurants closed until June.
CONNECTICUT-Gov. Ned Lamont extended the mandatory shutdown in the state until 5/20. CT has joined a coalition with the Northeast states of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts to coordinate reopening their economies. Gov. Lamont felt it would take at least another month before they could make a decision on reopening. However, on 4/30, Gov. Lamont unveiled a 4-stage plan to start the re-opening on 5/20. He will include outdoor areas of restaurants and bars, outdoor museums and zoos, offices, and some retail outlets. He is also including, specifically, barber shops, hair salons, and other personal care businesses.
DELAWARE-Gov. Carney extended a stay-at-home order until 5/15. He also joined the above Northeastern state coalition. Retail stores can reopen for curbside business on 5/8. Salons and barbershops will also reopen on 5/8, but only serving essential workers.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA-DC Mayor Bowser extended a stay-at-home order until 5/15.
FLORIDA-Gov. DeSantis (one of only two current Governors that I have met) issued a stay-at-home order until 4/30. He has been a bit rogue, allowing disparity of orders among counties, not approving retroactive unemployment benefits, and pushing unproven drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. He has closed schools until the end of the school year and cancelled graduation ceremonies. He has probably been the most active Governor in the US in defending his state borders from non-residents, from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, and Louisiana. The Governor began slowly reopening public beaches, starting in the northern part of the state and moving southward. He promised in a briefing on Sunday to detail a slow reopening “pretty soon”. Again, on Wednesday, the Governor said that South Florida will be reopening “soon”, but gave no timeframe.
GEORGIA-Gov. Kemp issued a stay-at-home order until 4/30. He has closed schools until the end of the school year. He feels that his state is behind the curve, more so than other states, because of lack of testing. He has made it clear that churches will remain closed, but just opened up the beaches. Despite his admission that his state has one of the lowest rates of testing, Gov. Kemp made a splash by opening gyms, tattoo shops, barbershops, nail and hair salons, massage studios, and bowling alleys to open up on Friday 4/24, to join the beaches that he already opened up. He wasn’t done though, as he also announced that theaters and restaurants could reopen on 4/27.
HAWAII-Gov. Ige issued a stay-at-home order through 4/30. He has been extremely quiet since. On 5/6, he announced Phase One, the stabilization phase of the state’s reopening and economic recovery. With restrictions, these are the businesses that can reopen: agriculture, landscape, auto dealerships, car washes, childcare services, pet grooming, observatories, retail and repair services, florists, and shopping mall retail and repair services.
IDAHO-Gov. Little issued a stay-at-home order until 4/30. His goal is for most businesses to open after that. On 5/4, Gov. Little announced criteria and timelines for small businesses to apply for Idaho Rebound cash grants, totaling $300 million, which is the largest state direct cash support for small businesses in the country. He also explained the states “Staged Opening”, with Initial Stage before 5/1, Stage One 5/1-5/15, Stage Two 5/16-5/29, Stage Three 5/30-6/12, and Stage Four 6/13-6/26.
ILLINOIS-Gov. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order through at least 4/30. He hopes that restarting production will go “industry by industry, and maybe company by company.” On Friday, the Governor announced that the stay-at-home order was extended until 5/31, despite pressure from Chicago businesses. But, he will reopen golf courses and some public parks on 5/1.
INDIANA-Gov. Holcomb issued a stay-at-home order through 4/20, but it may be extended. He is encouraged, but mentioned that the “new normal” after restrictions are lifted may include new measures such as taking employees temperatures at work, wearing masks, and physical distancing. Gov. Holcomb said he plans to take a phased approach to lifting restrictions. But, Marion, Lake and Cass counties will follow a slightly delayed timeline to begin. Retailers can open at 50% capacity on Monday (5/11 in Indianapolis). Hair salons and barber shops can reopen in 5/11 (5/18 in Indianapolis). Most restaurants on 5/11 at 50% capacity (5/18 for Indianapolis). Religious services on 5/8 everywhere.
*IOWA-Gov. Reynolds has not declared ANY stay-at-home order. However, he did issue an Emergency statement that closed all nonessential businesses until 4/30. This one of the states with probably the least restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, and one of only 7 states that technically didn’t issue a stay-at-home order. Effective 5/07, Gov. Reynolds eased COVID-19-related business restrictions in metro Des Moines’ Polk and Dallas counties and 20 other counties where cases of COVID-19 have been steadily increasing. The order allows retail stores and malls to reopen with certain limitations, including operating at 50% capacity and adhering to social-distancing and sanitation guidelines. Fitness centers can open by appointment only and my admit one person at a time.
KANSAS-Gov. Kelly issued a stay-at-home order, which has been extended to 5/3. She expects to see the state’s peak to be 4/19-4/29.Universities across Kansas are making plans to reopen their campuses, although classes will look a little different. Some intend to offer in-person classes in the Fall. Meanwhile, shuttered retailers, dine-in restaurants and offices in some parts of Kansas are reopening on Monday.
KENTUCKY-Gov. Beshear issued a “Healthy at Home” order that will be in effect indefinitely. He has closed schools until at least 5/1. Last Thursday, the Governor released a new timeline for reopening state’s industries. On 5/22, restaurants with limited 33% capacity and outdoor seating. 6/1, movie theaters and fitness centers. 6/11, campgrounds. 6/15, childcare facilities, with reduced capacity.
LOUISIANA-Gov. Edwards extended the stay-at-home order through 5/15. Gov. Edwards is planning on making a decision on Monday about whether the State will begin Phase 1 of reopening the economy.
MAINE-Gov. Mills issued a “Stay Healthy at Home” order through at least 4/30. Gov. Mills announced on 5/8 a Rural Reopening Plan aimed at reopening certain additional business in rural Maine over the next 2 weeks. Under the plan, retail stores and restaurants will be permitted to open to in-store and some dine-in service. Retail stores in these specific counties are allowed to open on 5/11. Restaurants in these specific counties are allowed to open on 5/18.
MARYLAND-Gov. Hogan issued a stay-at-home order with no end date.
MASSACHUSETTS-Gov. Baker issued an emergency order closing all nonessential businesses until 5/4. MA has joined the Northeastern states coalition. Gov. Baker has opened up golf courses.
MICHIGAN-Gov. Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order through 5/15.She outlined the 4 factors she will take into consideration before reopening the state. She, along with Governors from New York and Florida, has been particularly vocal during the pandemic, particularly in criticizing the President. Her plan of action has been met with daily protests in Lansing at her doorstep, with mobs of people waving guns and some with Trump signs. Although the Governor extended the stay-at-home order to 5/15 on Friday, perhaps, because of the recent protests, she has relaxed some restrictions, like some outdoor activities and purchasing garden supplies. She also reopened golf courses and motorized boating (but only for people from the same household.)
MINNESOTA-Gov. Walz extended the stay-at-home order through 5/3. Minnesota did just open golf courses on 4/18.
MISSISSIPPI-Gov. Reeves (I think he is one of only two current Governors I have met personally) issued a shelter-in-place order which expires on 4/20. He announced this week that schools will remain closed for the rest of the semester. He also said that “There are still more sacrifices to be made.”
MISSOURI-Gov. Parson issued a “Stay Home Missouri” order through 4/24 and has made no plans to reopen the state.
MONTANA-Gov. Bullock extended the stay-at-home order through 4/24. He said last Monday that he will allow the state to reopen sooner rather than later. The Governor decided on Friday to lift its stay-at-home order on Sunday 4/26.
*NEBRASKA-Gov. Ricketts issued the “21 Days to Stay Home and Stay Healthy” order on 4/10, which ordered all hair salons, tattoo parlors, and strip clubs closed through 4/30, and all organized group sports cancelled until 5/31. Nebraska is one of only 7 states that did not issue a stay-at-home order.
NEVADA-Gov. Sisolak issued a stay-at-home order until 4/30. He is monitoring several parameters in his decision to reopen the economy. On Friday, the Las Vegas Mayor, already somewhat controversial, said she wants to open up the casinos and the Strip as soon as possible, “even if it risks some lives.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE-Gov. Sununu extended a stay-at-home order until 5/4. Public and private schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year.
NEW JERSEY-Gov. Murphy issued a stay-at-home order with no specific end date. NJ is part of the coalition of Northeastern states. He said “that no one is more eager to restart our economy than I am.”
NEW MEXICO-Gov. Grisham extended the state’s emergency order to 4/30. She is waiting for the peak to occur, before taking any actions.
NEW YORK-Gov. Cuomo issued a “New York State on PAUSE” executive order until 5/15. NY has joined the coalition of Northeastern states. He has been the most vocal Governor in the country during the pandemic and the one who has challenged the President the most (and vice versa). This past Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo flew down to Washington to meet in-person with the President, and they aired out some issues. Following the meeting, the President pledged to support NY and get the the medical supplies that they need.
NORTH CAROLINA-Gov. Cooper issued a stay-at-home order until 4/29.
*NORTH DAKOTA-Gov. Burgum has only shut down schools, restaurants, fitness centers, movie theaters and salons. ND is one of only 7 states that did not issue a stay-at-home order.
OHIO-Gov. DeWine issued a stay-at-home order in place until 5/1.
OKLAHOMA-Gov. Stitt extended a “Safer at Home” order for adults over age 65 and other vulnerable residents until 5/6. He is working on a plan to possibly open the state’s economy on 4/30. He is also allowing elective surgeries to resume on 4/24. On Friday, the Governor allowed hair salons and pet-grooming services to reopen.
OREGON-Gov. Brown issued a stay-at-home order with no expiration date, until she sees a declining rate of active cases of COVID-19 and a return to normalcy.
PENNSYLVANIA-Gov. Wolf extended a stay-at-home order until 5/8. PA joined the coalition of Northeastern states. He has seemed, like NY Gov. Cuomo, to be on the reluctant side to reopening his state’s economy. He said, “If it’s not in the best interest of keeping people safe, I’m not going to go along with it.” I could see this potentially becoming a moral, political, and revenue issue, as other states (Florida and Texas, for example) may be willing to reopen earlier, possibly to attract business away from the northeastern states coalition (which has happened to some degree previously due to state tax differences).
RHODE ISLAND-Gov. Raimondo issued an extension to the state’s stay-at-home order to until at least 5/8. RI has joined that Northeastern coalition of states.
SOUTH CAROLINA-Gov. McMaster extended his previous “State of Emergency” executive order through at least 4/27. He has said that, “We want to get all of these businesses going back as soon as we can.” The Governor has been opening up beaches slowly. The Gov. announced on Thursday that the stay at home order will end next week.
*SOUTH DAKOTA-Gov. Noem has refused to issue a stay-at-home order, despite the state’s COVID-19 cases spiking. SD is one of only 7 states without such an order. South Dakota’s Governor has been praised for her Sweden-like approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, relying on herd immunity and sheltering only the at-risk population, while not cratering the local economy. However, on Monday, the NY Post reported that the confirmed cases in the state jumped from 129 to 988 since 4/1, when the Governor criticized other states’ “Draconian measures” of social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. She even went on to say “South Dakota is not New York.” South Dakota is now home to one of the largest single clusters of COVID-19, with 300 workers at one pork processing plant of Smithfield Foods infected, according to the Washington Post.
TENNESSEE-Gov. Lee extended the state’s stay-at-home order until 4/30. He said that the state would be reopening the economy in May.
TEXAS-Gov. Abbott issued a stay-at-home order through 4/30. He said last Monday that only businesses “that will have minimal or zero impact on the spread of coronavirus will be the first to open up.” He intends to open some businesses on 5/1. Gov. Abbott and a top law enforcement officer on Wednesday publicly came to the defense of a Dallas hair salon owner who was jailed for 7 days, for defying virus shutdown order. When hair salons in the State were legally reopened, her first customer for a haircut was, none other than, Sen. Ted Cruz, showing his support.
*UTAH-Gov. Herbert extended the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive through 5/1. Schools will remain closed for the remainder of the year. Technically, UT is one of the 7 states to not issue a stay-at-home order.
VERMONT-Gov. Scott issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order which has been extended until 5/15.
VIRGINIA-Gov. Northam extended a stay-at-home order until 6/10. This is the longest such order among the 50 states, by more than a month.
WASHINGTON-Gov. Inslee extended a stay-at-home order until 5/4. But he says he may soon loosen some restrictions.
WEST VIRGINIA-Gov. Justice issued a stay-at-home order with no expiration date.
WISCONSIN-Gov. Evers issued a “Safer at Home” order that prohibits all nonessential travel until 4/24. Wisconsin just joined neighbor Minnesota in opening up golf courses on 4/18.
*WYOMING-Gov. Gordon did not issue a stay-at-home order, one of only 7 states that didn’t.
On the Unemployment front, the weekly US Initial Jobless Claims data skyrocketed from 282,000 on 3/14, to a record (and twice as high as expected) 3,283,000 on 3/21. Then, on 3/28, the number skyrocketed again by 6,648,000, making it almost a 10 million increase in 2 weeks (way more than expected). The 6,648,000 reading was also “the highest level of seasonally adjusted claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series,” per the Department of Labor. On 4/9, Initial Claims jumped by 6,606,000. Then, on 4/15, Initial Claims were up another 5,000,000, taking the four week total of new Unemployment Claims to 22,000,000. Many officials and economists had forecasted a total COVID-19 impact on new Unemployment Claims reaching 20-30 million people, and that looks like a spot-on forecast. On 4/23, weekly Initial Jobless Claims were reported up another 4,427,000, taking the grand total to over 26 million. On 4/30, Initial Claims jumped another 3,839,000. On 5/7, weekly Initial Claims was up another 3,169,000, which at least was a decrease from the 4/30 reading. But, that brings the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown total since 3/14 to 33 million, more than forecasted. The Unemployment Rate is now 15.5% for the week ending 4/25. That is the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Looking at the ADP National Employment Report, business closures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic prompted private employers to lay off a record 20.5 million people in April. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress may need to consider a guaranteed income to help people meet their basic needs during the COVID-19 crisis.
There was a late report about PPP 1 that missed my last Repo Commentary, the NBA Los Angeles Lakers even got a loan of $4.6 million from the first $349 billion. They decided to give it back. Yeah, I would too, that’s a little too public, for a team that is the 8thmost valuable sports team in the world, worth an estimated $3.7 billion. It turns out that 3 huge hotel companies owned by a Texas entrepreneur received a total of $69 million from the program. He and about 200 other larger corporations are still holding on to the money from PPP 1. In fact, the hotel owner, Bennett, said defiantly that he was keeping it. On the other hand, after Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s stern warning, 42 public companies are returning the SBA loans.
For PPP 2, which launched (4/27), the SBA has limited each bank to 10% of the funds available, $60 billion per bank, attempting to more evenly distribute the loans. Still, there are probably other tweaks that Treasury and SBA could make, to make sure the loans reach small business owners. I think they should reduce the maximum loan size and change the way the banks are paid, rather than a sliding scale based on principal amount of loans. A group of Senators from both parties now wants the administration to let recipients of the PPP loans to be able to spend up to 50% of the money on non-payroll expenses, rather than only 25%, and still receive debt forgiveness. Some members of Congress are proposing ways to deliver aid to businesses and individuals in CARES 2 legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic that do not involve banks as the intermediaries or application process. One proposal would use the IRS while another proposal would have the Federal Reserve create an account for every American to deliver them funds, according to the NY Times. Speaking of PPP 1 and PPP 2, the SBA watchdog fears that the PPP rules will burden borrowers, particularly in complying with the forgiveness eligibility. Did you know that, despite PPP 1 being gobbled up in less than 14 days, PPP 2 still has about 40% of funds remaining still available. Some small businesses have been looking elsewhere, because of the problems with the application process and concerns about the requirements on forgiveness.
This is an odd piece of news, those hoarders who grabbed up tons of toilet paper, thinking (I guess) that there was not going to be anymore, and they could sell it to neighbors at an inflated price, now want their money back. Costco has said ‘no’ to returns. I am hearing from my friends with Internet businesses that they are having phenomenal results during the quarantine, in some cases tripling or quadrupling their normal volumes. However, they all express frustration right now with Amazon, who wouldn’t take stockpiles in, because they were focused only on PPE, and so now that they are taking orders for non-PPE, they don’t have supplies to ship out, so there are significant delays. I know that I ordered 2 sets of masks about 5 weeks ago on Amazon, and they still haven’t arrived. I’m guessing that they will arrive, right when the quarantine order is lifted. Ironically, this world reset may have cured me cold-turkey, without a 12-step process, of my Amazon Prime addiction. I can’t say enough about Publix grocery stores down here in Florida. First off, they are not only the anchor store to many shopping plazas here, but they are usually also the landlord to the other shops in the plazas, owning the entire plaza. Early on in the quarantine, they told those shops that their rents were suspended. They have continued to work hard with customers on increasing levels of cleanliness and use of PPE and social distancing. Now, since they heard farmers were having trouble, due to restaurants being closed and distributors not ordering as much, Publix announced on Thursday that they will buy all of the excess food that the farmers have and donate it to the food banks.
Which brings up another interesting topic, one you have heard me speak about for over 12 years, disintermediation. We have discussed the Fed disintermediating the primary dealers with its RPP program, the international corporations disintermediating the money funds in Europe to go to the international banks directly, the P2P happening between insurance companies and money funds in the US, which was a subset of the P2P that I continue to work on. But, I had this fascinating discussion with this Editor of a Food & Wine magazine, who said disintermediation has come to the food industry. With yachting and restaurants being crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, wholesalers of high-end food products have lost their natural customers. Some restaurants are still purchasing for their Take-Out Order business or delivery business, but the numbers are down substantially. The worry for the farmers and wholesalers is that many of the restaurants that are closed may not re-open in the future, permanently changing their revenue landscape. The savvy ones though had begun doing Internet ordering for retail customers at wholesale prices. This is the basic tenet for P2P in our business, mid-market rates because there are less middlemen or pieces of the pie to be shared (which you know I’ve been pushing for 12 years!). In this case, it’s the restaurants who are the middlemen, who work a kind of bid/offer spread of prices between the wholesalers/farmers and the retail public. The wineries have been doing direct customer business for years, bypassing the 100-300% markup of liquor distributors and then of liquor stores. I think it’s interesting, confirms my belief in what I was pioneering in our industry, and may be the future of other industries. I’m not sure how the surviving restaurants will feel about it, but much of the cache of restaurants is how well they PREPARE or COOK food, the ambience of the establishments, the friendliness and service of staff, and the crowd. For that, the public will likely still pay a price. However, my anecdotal report from Cinco de Mayo with a famous Mexican restaurant chain here in West Palm Beach was not positive. There were at least 70 of us standing outside the restaurant for hours, waiting for orders that we had ordered days before. Somehow, that didn’t work well. And now there’s more news, as meat packing businesses and farmers are having trouble delivering meat products to market. The supply chain is broken, causing fast food giant Wendy’s to stop selling hamburgers and some grocery stores to have empty meat sections. The farmers say that it isn’t a supply problem, the meatpackers are having a problem with many of the employees having tested positive for COVID-19. So, the problem is the supply chain. President Trump signed an executive order to compel meat processing plants to stay open last week, using the Defense Production Act. He is also going to provide liability protection for the meatpacking companies. Several major farmers are now retooling themselves to sell meat directly to retailers or public, and bypassing the typical supply chain. Another example of disintermediation. Clorox factories are working around the clock to try to meet a 500% increase in demand for antiseptic wipes. Yet, they are generally absent at most stores right now. Another example of a disintermediation and P2P business is Airbnb, which bypasses the typical hotel chain to house travelers.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is working from the hospital, after being admitted Tuesday night with a gallbladder infection. The Human Rights Campaign has endorsed assumed Democratic Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden. The Washington Post and NY Times both wrote scathing articles about President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. He, reportedly, has taken on a key role in guiding the President on combating the pandemic, heading up a “shadow task force” of his own, which has utilized volunteers from consulting and private equity firms, with little experience in healthcare, procurement or supply-chain operations. None of them had relationships with manufacturers or an understanding of customs requirements or FDA rules, according to the Post. Basically, both articles said that there was little or no progress and no procurement of PCE equipment. Three members of the White House COVID-19 taskforce, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Vice President Mike Pence is not planning to enter self-quarantine after his press secretary tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and plans to be at the White House on Monday.
As you know, we have an Election coming up, including for President of the United States. But, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts are devoting their attention to HOW we will do that voting, safely and with social distancing. What’s funny is that, initially, these experts questioned if the postal system could perhaps handle voting by mail from so many people, forgetting that the US military has shown voting by mail works, since the Civil War. That could be the model for November. Of course, the President could cancel the 2020 Presidential Election, although it is unlikely he would do that. If he did, his Presidency would END on 1/20/21. It turns out, according to a Constitutional lawyer, Trump’s Presidency ends whether he wants it to or not on 1/20/21, unless he is re-elected. The House would end their terms on 1/3/21, without re-election. The Senate can actually be appointed by Governors, without elections. Therefore, the Senate Pro Tempore would become President. However, he is currently a Republican, and once all the Senators currently up for re-election are not re-elected because the election was cancelled by the President, most of those up for re-election are from states with Democrat Governors, so the majority in the Senate would likely switch to Democrat, and the new President Pro Tempore would be a Democrat. Historically, that seat is held by the longest held seat. In this case, it would be Patrick Leahy. Learn something new everyday, especially in the Repo Commentary! A military official who serves as President Trump’s valet has tested positive for COVID-19. President Trump again has tested negative, as has VP Mike Pence.
Some financial experts are referring to this pandemic shutdown and relief efforts as the beginning of ‘the biggest legal transfer of wealth in US history’. The nominee for National Intelligence Director, Rep. John Ratcliffe, is doing a 180 on whistleblower protections, now that he’s under the Senate confirmation spotlight. He was nominated for the 2ndtime by President Trump on Tuesday. He now promised protections for whistleblowers and showed support for the intelligence community. Previously, he had many times accused intelligence agencies of “bias” and “prejudice” toward President Trump. The first COVID-19 death of a ICE (US immigration) detainee was reported in San Diego on Wednesday. President Trump has repeatedly been urged to release ICE detainees during the COVID-19 crisis. Tennessee authorities have now identified a ‘person of interest’ in case of 15-month-old baby Evelyn Boswell, who went missing 3 months ago. On Wednesday, the Navajo Nation announced, “We’re vulnerable”, in regards to COVID-19 and the new rush to curb the virus. The Irish are returning a 173-year-old favor by helping Native Americans battling COVID-19. I feel like I don’t report enough Native American news, so I’m happy to have some news. Two Sioux nations have rejected South Dakota’s governor’s request to close COVID-19 checkpoints. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe established COVID-19 checkpoints on US and state highways within tribal reservations to check people coming in and out of tribal territories, and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to tribal land. The Governor had demanded that the checkpoints be removed. As I’m sure many of you are thinking, this is not an easily solved matter, as jurisdiction of native lands and sovereign nations that happen to have state and federal roads running through, is complicated. And, this is more complicated, because SD is one of the 7 states that didn’t issue a stay-at-home order, but the 2 tribes have. They also require visitors and residents to complete questionnaires when entering and exiting. A new US military recruitment memo suggests that COVID-19 survivors are “Permanently Disqualified” from joining the US military.
The NY Post is still reporting that there is a bloc of Democratic governors and mayors who are talking about going around Congress to give relief checks to illegal immigrants, after they were excluded from the $1200 COVID-19 relief checks that US citizens received as part of CARES 1 Act. In particular, California Gov. Newsom created a private-public $125 million fund that illegal immigrants would be able to draw from, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot expanded city benefits, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey created a $5 million funding package for all residents including illegal immigrants. New Jersey Gov. Murphy said a fund for illegal immigrants was something that he wants to look at. There are more than 15 million immigrants in the US that did not receive CARES Act checks, nor expanded unemployment benefits, because Congress limited eligibility to workers who have Social Security numbers. San Francisco is giving its many homeless people free drugs (methadone, cannabis), alcohol, and quarantining them in hotels. A father and son have been arrested and charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, in Brunswick, Georgia. Ahmaud was jogging through a neighborhood and unarmed in February in a recently released video, when two men stopped him and shot him dead, for no reason. The two men claimed that he was a burglar and was armed. The father saw Ahmaud running on the street and armed himself with a .357 Magnum and his son grabbed a shotgun, and they jumped into their pickup truck and chased him down the street. A third man jumped into the truck. As Ahmaud tried to run around the truck parked in the middle of the road, both men confronted him, and then shot him.
I missed this piece of news from a couple of weeks ago, allegedly Dr. Fauci convinced the Obama Administration to give the Wuhan, China lab a $3.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to study viruses. President Trump said he would end that federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology. There certainly has been a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, and Dr. Fauci maintains that the virus was not created in a Chinese lab. The 90-year-old billionaire, Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot plans on donating up to 90% of his $5.9 billion fortune to his foundation to build centers to help veterans with disabilities around the country, fund medical research, and provide care for children with autism. He is also a major political donor of Donald Trump. He and his wife signed The Giving Pledge in 2010. He has already donated $2 billion to more than 300 charities, according to the Washington Post. More edification for me, he and Arthur Blank founded Home Depot in 1978, after they were fired from their jobs at another hardware store. Greg Zanis, the Illinois carpenter who built crosses for mass shooting victims across the country, has died. He built 27,000 handmade white crosses to honor the victims killed in US mass shootings, other acts of terrorism, and natural disasters, “Zanis Crosses for Losses”. He was 69 and had been battling bladder cancer.
I saw this blurb and I thought it said something I’ve always felt better than I ever could: “Term limits would increase the likelihood that people who come to Congress would anticipate returning to careers in the private sector and therefore would, as they legislate, think about what it is like to live under the laws they make.”
The Federalist is highlighting the wife of NYC Mayor De Blasio for “losing” some $850 million. According to the Daily Mail, Chirline McCray, was given $850 million for a mental health program that she was spearheading, ThriveNYC. Despite that, though, it is reportedly receiving an increase it its budget and is expected to spend $5 billion over the next 5 years.
AP reported this morning that the number of US businesses filing for Chapter 11 increased in March, despite the creation of relief programs. Lawyers who work with distressed businesses say there are signs many owners are considering bankruptcy. On 5/7, Souplantation (also Sweet Tomatoes) announced it is closing all 97 of its restaurants permanently in the wake of COVID-19. I mentioned that 24Hour Fitness was contemplating bankruptcy and I discussed it with you here in the Repo Commentary, posing the question of “how can a nationwide gym that is not open, so not paying employees or having overhead, yet still collecting from members (unfairly), not turn a profit?” it turned out that many of the credit card processors chose not to process those credit card monthly payments from the members, worrying that they would have the payments clawed back at some point by regulators or lawsuits from members. I got an email from my health club, LA Fitness, a month ago, which said that the relief they would be giving is either free 3 months membership to someone I introduced new to the gym, or a free month tacked on to the end of my membership. I argued that since they haven’t been open, they should freeze all active memberships, and that tacking on to a membership that I am obviously done with at that time (because I’m moving or some other reason), doesn’t make any sense. They did not respond, so I assumed that I was getting ripped off. But, I just checked my bank statement and realized that the credit card processor, stopped processing my automatic payment after the 3/1 payment. So, even though LA Fitness wouldn’t do the right thing, I wound up being protected by the credit card processor. I know, that whole paragraph sounded like I was feeling badly for the gyms and then I did a 180 and was incensed at the gyms. That’s the nature of this pandemic. This week, Gold’s Gym announced that it was filing for bankruptcy. Retail, especially brick and mortar stores without strong online sales, are taking a beating. NBC News reported on Thursday that Neiman Marcus officially filed for bankruptcy. Lord & Taylor announced that it would be liquidating all assets when it reopens. Saks Fifth Avenue has prepared a bankruptcy filing for its 34 locations. J Crew filed for bankruptcy. J.C. Penney (also owner of Kmart) is considering bankruptcy. I didn’t realize that it still has about 850 stores and has the second-most debt of any distressed retailer at $4.2 billion, according to Moody’s. Since you are asking, I assume, the No.1 is Neiman Marcus. S&P has J.C. Penney as a distressed retailer with a credit rating of CCC and a negative outlook.
There has been a trend over the last few years of large retail chains filing bankruptcy in recent years, certainly more recently due to the COVID-19 shutdown, but in the past year, more due to brick and mortar stores losing revenue to online retailers. Just in 2019, Destination Maternity filed in October, Sugarfina filed in September, Forever 21 filed in September, Fred’s filed in September, Barneys New York filed (for the second time) in August, Avenue filed in August, A’Gaci filed (for the second time) in August, Charming Charlie (for the second time) in July, FTD Florists in June, Sonia Rykiel in April, Roberto Cavalli in April, Z Gallerie (for the second time) in March, Diesel in March, Charlotte Russe in February, FullBeauty Brands in February, Payless in February, Gymboree (for the second time) in January, and SHOPKO in January. And, that was just in 2019. In 2018, we saw some major retail bankruptcies in David’s Bridal, Sears, Mattress Firm, Gump’s, Brookstone, National Stores Inc., Rockport, Nine West, Remington Outdoors (a gun manufacturer during the height of that industry because of the lawsuits stemming from 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre), Claire’s, The Walking Company, Bon-Ton, among others.
So, I’m watching these sectors that you will see shortly, filing bankruptcy: gyms, restaurants, retail stores, and movie theaters, as all of these groups are going to have a challenge to change their business models to accommodate social distancing and gathering guidelines. I’m not sure how bowling alleys will survive either, since the hygiene looks impossible to me. Brick and mortar retail stores were already getting their revenues hammered by online sales, for the last few years. The scary thing, and I’m hearing this from an inside source, is that you have not seen the small businesses file yet, because many of them can’t afford right now to even FILE bankruptcy. So, there will be another wave coming. Here in South Florida, a beloved chain of deli restaurants, Too Jays, has filed for bankruptcy. There are hopes that they may keep some of the locations open. When the lockdown was announced, a major sports bar chain here in Florida, Duffy’s, with 34 locations and over 1,500 people, completely shut down and furloughed all employees. They were the only restaurant group that chose not to do at least takeout and delivery. Besides now having disgruntled ex-employees and zero revenue for 2 months, Duffy’s faces an enormous challenge, as do all sports bars, to change their business model. Assuming that sports restart, which is critical to their current business model, I don’t know how they will be able to cater to customers with their huge cramped bars and cramped tables, with 70-100 televisions, and yet practice social distancing and maintain proper hygiene. If the sports restart without fans at the stadiums, and expand televised coverage, will that encourage more people to just stay home and watch, or go out to the sports bar and risk getting ill?
Here was a surprise to me, Beaumont Hospital in the Detroit area is going out of business. They laid off 2,475 people and eliminated about 450 positions, due to “dire financial effects” of COVID-19. Their Q1 net income was reported as -$278.4 million. While we see all of these healthcare workers and hospitals working hard against the pandemic, it’s sometimes hard to wrap your mind around a hospital during a pandemic going out of business.
Here is another sector that I hadn’t considered. With the success of online class-taking and video-conferenced professor lectures and cancelled college sports and college graduation ceremonies, universities and colleges are having to rethink their business plans and sources of revenue. The WSJ reports that MacMurray College, which had survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the Great Recession, is a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The private school in central Illinois announced that it will permanently shut its doors in May, after 174 years. Like other small schools, it had faced declining enrollment and financial shortfalls, then the pandemic brought unexpected costs of shifting classes online. This may not be the only education learned from the pandemic crisis, as the value of formal education itself has been questioned around the world, with the backdrop of homeschooling and online classes. Some institutions are now questioning whether students should be graded, especially since many things about the student, educator, and institution are subjective. Changes are likely coming and the institutions that figure out the right model for the right price will likely be the ones that survive.
Hertz is now seeking to avoid filing bankruptcy, after missing a lease payment, a new report says, according to WSJ. This is a ripple effect of the COVID-19 virus on the travel and hospitality industries. Rental car companies have fixed expenses, like vehicle leases for their rental fleets.
Of course, if all of these business sectors had a ton of cash saved, they may not have to change their business models, and just wait out the pandemic, until a vaccine or cure is completed. The problem is that most of these sectors are not cash-rich. Ironically, one of the few sectors that is cash-rich, shut down, pays staff mostly in tips, and has really low rent (in bad areas) is gentlemen’s clubs. But, given their business model, they will HAVE to wait for a cure or vaccine.
I was surprised that this didn’t get more headlines and airtime on the news, but Justin Trudeau said Canada will ban more than 1,500 models of assault-type weapons, shortly after April’s mass shooting of 23 people in Nova Scotia. Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada, which happens to have tighter gun control laws than the United States, but also does not have the Bill of Rights that specifically addresses gun rights of citizens. The PM said, “there will be 2-year amnesty period for current law-abiding gun owners” to protect them from criminal liability until they can take steps to comply with the new law and the country can determine “fair compensation.”
Human Rights Watch condemned Nigeria’s sentencing to death a driver via Zoom, as “inherently cruel and inhumane.” Venezuela’s president Maduro paraded 2 Americans, he calls “mercenaries”, detained for alleged “daring plot” to overthrow him. MSNBC reports that Russia has seen a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, as stories emerge of doctors being thrown out windows. Two Russian doctors have died and another was seriously injured in falls from hospital windows. Hundreds of Indian police have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, as they are over-stretched enforcing the world’s largest lockdown for the pandemic.
Despite being criticized by other country’s for keeping the country open and not having a lockdown, Sweden is claiming COVID-19 success and says that herd immunity is imminent, sometime in May. The top health official there has taken credit for the slowing of COVID-19 numbers and pointing to the increase in immune numbers. Sweden has kept open schools, gyms, bars and restaurants. There have been some doctors questioning Sweden’s claims. Also, the WHO has also insisted that there’s no evidence yet that coronavirus antibodies leave the previously infected immune. In fact, evidence in China and Singapore put that theory in jeopardy. So far, 14,385 people in Sweden, a population of over 10 million, have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 1,540 have died as of 4/20. The NY Post ran a story on 4/28 that “Sweden records the deadliest week of 21stCentury, after resisting lockdowns.” They reported that at least 2,505 Swedes had died between 4/6 and 4/12, averaging 358 fatalities per day. By comparison, Sweden’s neighbors, Denmark, Norway and Finland, respectively have reported just 434, 206, and 199, as of 4/28. I have never seen a time with more conflicting news reports and conflicting actual actions, as on 5/3, the WHO declared that Sweden’s COVID-19 response was a “model for the world” and praised the country.
This sordid story of politics has come to light recently, in which the WHO is accused of ignoring Taiwan, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan apparently, as reports are now coming out, was more prepared than any other country for the COVID-19 virus, but the WHO put politics first, according to thenation.com. Taiwan reportedly saw the pandemic coming and took action before China did. Taiwan has reported only 348 positive tests of COVID-19 and 5 deaths. It is one of the earliest countries to be hit and has one of the lowest infection rates. However, the WHO refuses to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Some of that blame though is on China, who has effectively blocked Taiwan from joining the WHO (or the United Nations, for that matter), because it officially considers Taiwan part of its territory. The WHO reportedly refers to the country of nearly 24 million interchangeably as “Taiwan, China”, “Taipei”, and “Taipei and its Environs”. The WHO allowed China to report Taiwan’s numbers as part of China’s numbers. Taiwan confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 1/21/20 and mobilized its Central Epidemic Command Center (which had been formed during the 2003 SARS outbreak), one day after Wuhan had hosted a 40,000-household dinner to celebrate Lunar New Year.
China announced that it will bar international investigators from examining the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, until “final victory” over the pandemic is achieved. A leaked intelligence dossier (leaked by “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance) says that China lied to the world about the origin of COVID-19, according to the NY Post. The dossier claims that China also made whistleblowers disappear and refused to hand over virus samples so the West could begin making a vaccine. And, in the 15-page research document, there are indications that some of the five intelligence agencies (the intelligence-sharing alliance of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) believe that the virus may have been leaked accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been a popular conspiracy theory (I even mentioned it above). Also in the dossier, intelligence showed that China had “evidence of human-human transmission from early December,” but continued to deny it could spread from humans to humans until January 20th. In unrelated news, the US State Department is concerned that China may be conducting small nuclear tests in secret, possibly violating an international agreement banning such tests, according to Fox News. The Japanese island of Hokkaido, which had been held up as a model of how to control the spread of the virus, but has now become a case study for the impact on what happens if a lockdown is lifted too early, has been suffering a second wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Their state of emergency began on 2/29, right after their Sapporo Snow Festival, which attracted 2 million people to the city, even an ill tourist from Wuhan. But, Hokkaido aggressively sought out every sick person and isolated them and locked down all others. Iraq’s new PM, Mustafa Kadhemi, is a former spy chief, who has ties both to Washington and Tehran, which may prove helpful. The UK is moving towards a gradual easing of the COVID-19 lockdown there, according to WSJ.
Gov. DeSantis and PB County decided on Wednesday 4/29, to open parks, golf courses (yay!), marinas, boat ramps, community pools (yay), and beaches for exercise. However, they did not open beaches for suntanning. And, all activities re-opened have to adhere to no groups of more than 10 and social distancing. I have been hearing that Floridians are flocking to the beaches and not adhering to the rules, which may result in them being closed again. Also, in nearby Martin County, Stuart, FL again made the London newspapers for having packed outdoor restaurants, showing no social distancing and clearly well over 100 people eating. They opened their golf courses and beaches before PB County, but restricted them to only Martin County residents. PB County announced Friday that the beaches would reopen tentatively on 5/18.
I actually had a tee-time the Thursday morning after golf courses were ordered closed and had a tee time at the same golf course last Thursday, the day it re-opened, and I got rained on by a terrible storm on the 5thhole. PB County requires each golfer to have their own golf cart and continue to use social distancing and to not touch the flags/pins. Pro shops and restaurants are closed, so you have to pay ahead over the phone. You also have to wear a mask throughout the loading area and practice facility. You have to load and unload your own clubs and clean out the carts. I actually like all the new rules. It also makes the round much faster, with each player having their own cart, so everyone drives to their own ball and plays ‘ready golf’. My first two rounds have been about 3 hours instead of 4 ½ hours. Some of you may know that I look out on a beautiful Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course from a 10th-floor balcony, which I am not a member of. So, occasionally I act my age and tell the guys on the driving range to “get off of my lawn!” actually, on Tuesday, I recognized the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, hitting golf balls on the range. No, I kept my mouth shut.
Florida is still dealing with their woeful DEO unemployment system, which keeps freezing up and all the payments that have not gone out yet. The Governor said they are working on it non-stop and that the system that was purchased for $40 million and recently installed, was never tested properly and can’t handle the extra workload from the lockdown. After 6 weeks of lockdown, Miami-Dade county finally reopened parks and boat marinas.
One of the concerns here in Florida is whether Florida’s hotel industry, which is critical to much of Florida’s tourism economy, face the same devastation the real estate industry suffered here during the great recession? Certain Florida destination cities are the most vulnerable, like Orlando, Daytona, Tampa, Naples, Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and the Keys. Miami, in particular could be the double-jeopardy, since so many incomplete condo high-rises stood there in 2010, and now many new expensive hotels have just opened. According to STR, a hospitality data tracking company, the COVID-19 crisis has closed more than 236 of the 473 hotel properties the firm tracks in Miami-Dade county and 24 of the 284 in Broward county. Last week, industry watcher began to worry, when the 1,600-room Miami Beach Fontainebleau Resort said it was working to renegotiate a nearly $1 billion loan through a process called “special servicing”, according to the Miami Herald. Another data tracking group said that 10 other Florida hotels financed through CMBS also entered special servicing in April. This is definitely something to watch, especially since hotels in Florida hire some 150,000 people here. The Breakers, the famous hotel in Palm Beach, announced that it would reopen on 5/22. Now, this seems like a good idea: the city of Tampa will relax zoning rules to allow restaurants extra outdoor seating, so they will be pandemic compliant for re-opening. I ate at a restaurant for the first time since St. Patrick’s Day, in Martin County, just over the line, on Saturday. It was awesome! I had lobster rolls that were as good as my native New England version and the entertainer happened to be a good friend of mine that I used to sing with. There were probably 100-120 people there, all outdoor seating and bar and pool. Felt so good to be outside at a restaurant and being served and not making my own cocktails. PB County is reopening restaurants, but with only 25% indoor capacity and full outdoor capacity on 5/11.
My 6-part Harmony Group, Generation Gap, and I actually performed a charity concert this Saturday, 4/25, at Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter, FL while practicing social distancing for people from the hospitality and entertainment industries in the parking lot, who received free food from the restaurant’s owner, Vince Flora, in return for donations to help hospitality and entertainment workers in the county. To avoid breaching the county and state pandemic rules, we stayed 6 feet apart and sang on an outdoor stage to the line of about 100 cars in the drive-up. I guess this is what it would be like to sing for a McDonald’s Drive-Thru. “Would you like a song or fries with that hamburger?” We did have about 20 cars wind up parking in the lot for the last hour with their windows open to enjoy the concert.
Palm Beach County authorities closed down all “non-essential” businesses 8 weeks ago, urging people to stay at home. It probably would have been easier and shorter to just list the “non-essential” (also known as ‘fun’) businesses that they were closing (realtors, bars, churches, retail stores, clothing stores, golf courses, gyms and fitness centers, bowling alleys, theaters, beaches, parks, amusement parks, and strip clubs.) They specifically designated “essential” businesses (allowed to be Open) as the following (by the way, the Governor oddly made WWE wrestling an ‘essential’ business:
- Doctors’ offices
- Dentists’ offices
- Urgent care centers
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Physical therapists
- Mental health professionals
- Research and laboratory services
- Blood banks
- Medical cannabis facilities
- Medical equipment facilities
- Healthcare manufacturers and suppliers
- Reproductive healthcare service providers
- Substance abuse providers
- Medical transport services
- Grocery stores
- Farmers markets
- Farm and produce stands
- Food banks
- Convenience stores
- Liquor stores*
- Businesses engaged in food cultivation (farming, livestock, fishing, etc.)
- Businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and necessities of life for needy individuals
- Television stations
- Radio stations
- Media services
- Gas stations
- Automobile dealerships
- Auto-supply stores
- Auto-repair facilities
- Financial institutions
- Insurance firms
- Pawn shops
- Hardware stores
- Gardening stores
- Building material stores
- Contractors and other trades
- Building management
- Home Security Firms
- Fire and Water Damage Restoration
- Public adjusters
- Appliance repair personnel
- Mailing businesses
- Shipping services
- Private colleges to provide distance learning
- Trade schools to provide distance learning
- Technical colleges to provide distance learning
- University, College or Technical College residence halls for students who cannot return to their homes
- Dry cleaners
- Laundry service providers
- Restaurants for take-out only*
- Schools and other entities to provide free food pickup
- Assisted living facilities
- Nursing Homes
- Adult day care centers
- Businesses providing professional legal or accounting services
- Landscape companies
- Pool care businesses
- Childcare facilities
- Logistics providers
- Trucking consolidators
- Telecommunication providers
- Propane and natural gas services
- Open construction sites
- Architectural firms
- Engineering firms
- Land surveying firms
- Manufacturing facilities
- Bottling plants
- Industrial distribution
- Supply chain facilities
- Waste management services
- Commercial lodging establishments
- Temporary vacation rentals
- Pet boarding facilities
- Funeral homes
- Funeral product suppliers
- Firearm and ammunition supply stores
- Any businesses providing services to government
- Electrical production and distribution services
- Moving, storage, and relocation services
- Personal grooming services: hair salons and nail salons?
- Religious services
- Natural gas, water, electric utilities and cable service providers
I am usually singing a National Anthem, singing in my 6-part harmony group Generation Gap, and/or doing an Elvis Presley gig, each week here in Palm Beach County, FL. I had many gigs in November and December, quieted down in January, but had picked up again with private gigs and 6 MLB Spring Training games. However, that all came to a halt when MLB CANCELLED Spring Training and Florida authorities limited gatherings to less than 50, particularly for events and restaurants, then closed the restaurants, except for Delivery and Takeout. We are actually in constant touch with party planners, hotels, and restaurant owners, who are planning to hire us as soon as they reopen, some guessing that that will be in June or July. If you were inclined to see much more famous bands or solos in concert than my Generation Gap or Elvis Presley performances, there were many acts which came to Florida in 2019, and these were scheduled for for 2020 (below), although that all changed with COVID-19. A public service announcement about the outdoor amphitheater in West Palm Beach (currently adjacent to the South Florida Fair), it has been very confusing with all the name changes, and it has happened again. It was originally called the Coral Sky Amphitheater, then was changed to the Cruzan Rum Amphitheater, then to Perfekt Vodka Amphitheater, then back to Coral Sky Amphitheater, and was changed again to iThink Financial Services Amphitheater. None of the names have been particularly catchy and all those changes occurred only in the last 11 years! Because of the pandemic, some events, such as fairs and boat shows in Florida have been cancelled or postponed. So, please check ahead of time to see if the concert you are going to is still being held.
SOUTH FLORIDA 2020 SCHEDULE (next 2 months):
Celine Dion-Miami, January 17
Queensryche-Fort Lauderdale, January 17
Brian Wilson-Miami, January 17
Mary Wilson-Bonita Springs, January 19
Starship-West Palm Beach, January 22
Steve Martin & Martin Short-Hollywood, January 25
Guns N Roses-Miami, January 31
Jason Aldean,Riley Green,Morgan Wallen-Orlando, January 31
Maroon 5-Miami, February 1
Zac Brown Band-Sunrise, February 1
Styx-Port St. Lucie, February 1
Andrea Bocelli-Miami, February 11
Kool and the Gang & Village People-Key West, February 21
John Fogarty-Fort Lauderdale, February 22
Paul Anka-West Palm Beach, March 13
Harry Connick Jr.-Fort Lauderdale, March 18
Cher-Miami, March 24
America-Fort Lauderdale, March 24
YES and Alan Parsons Project-Fort Lauderdale, March 25
Little River Band-Fort Lauderdale, March 26
The Who-Fort Lauderdale, April 21
Elton John-Miami, May 30
Def Leppard and Motley Crue, Miami Gardens, July 7
Nickelback-West Palm Beach, August 15
Foreigner, Kansas, and Europe-West Palm Beach, September 6
Jokes and Such: